Brantford to get marijuana retail store

Vincent Ball

By Vincent Ball, Brantford Expositor

Brantford is getting a government-run marijuana store after all.

The city is on a list of 15 cities announced Tuesday by the government.

The stores will sell marijuana for recreational use.

Officials confirmed Tuesday that the city has been identified for the location of at least one cannabis retail store by next July, the same month the federal government plans to legalize cannabis.

Brantford was not on a list announced in November of 14 cities chosen to host pot shops.

"It's our understanding that in implementing the rollout of legalized cannabis retail outlets the province is committed to engaging with the city to ensure that municipal feedback is considered throughout the planning and development process," Maria Visocchi, the city's director of communications and community engagement, said in a statement.

Ottawa introduced legislation in April with a goal of legalizing and regulating the use of recreational pot by July 1, 2018, but left it up to the provinces to design their own distribution systems and usage regulations.

Ontario was the first province to announce a detailed plan to sell and distribute recreational marijuana and legislators on Tuesday passed a bill that would establish a framework for legalization.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa said one of his top concerns is ensuring municipalities were not "out of pocket" for a legalization plan that isn't something they created.

"We want municipalities to be partners in this," he said. "They're being imposed (upon) by the federal government, as are the provinces. This is their timeline, this is their program. We just want to make sure we provide the necessary supports for the communities. We'll work with the municipalities to make sure they get compensated."

The minimum legal age to purchase cannabis in Ontario will be 19. The province also plans to set up about 150 standalone cannabis stores by 2020. The first wave of 40 stores will open in 2018, with that number slated to rise to 80 stores by July 2019.

A subsidiary of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario will run the stores and the agency itself is overseeing the process to establish their locations.

Consumption of legal weed will not be allowed in public spaces or workplaces in Ontario and will have to be confined to private residences, the province has said.

The government's plan has been met with anxiety by some municipal leaders who say the process has not provided them with enough information.

"City staff have recently met with Ministry of Finance officials and representatives from the LCBO to discuss the criteria for site selection as well as the education and awareness campaign that will be a vital component of the retail launch in our community," Visocchi said.

"Together with our provincial partners, the city will ensure that decisions about store location are made based on the goal of protecting young people, and keeping our community safe. We have been assured that the LCBO will use strict guidelines to identify specific store locations with the objective of ensuring that vulnerable populations are protected and illegal market activity is mitigated. This criteria includes ensuring stores are not located in close proximity to schools."

The city encouraged residents with questions to visit the LCBO cannabis retail website at:

"We understand and expect that residents of Brantford will have many questions regarding this development," Visocchi said. "The city is dedicated to providing information to the public regarding the site selection and implementation process in Brantford as it becomes available in the coming months."

Mayor Chris Friel remains critical of how the province came up with its marijuana strategy and communicated it to municipalities.

"I'm disappointed that none of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario's recommendations for the rollout were considered or reflected in the policy and governance structure," said Friel, who is the chair of the AMO task force on marijuana. "There should have been more meaningful engagement with municipalities during the planning phase since we will be responsible for governing and implementing the legislation on the front lines.

"More resources will be needed including police, bylaw officers and communications to properly education the public, especially youth and vulnerable populations."

Friel also has been critical that there is no economic or entrepreneurial element included as part of the provincial plan. And he also decried the lack of a provincial public education campaign.

"One of the reasons I've brought the idea of a local task force on this issue is because we need to educate the public," Friel said. "That's something that we, as municipalities, were promised but it hasn't materialized.

"This is an important issue and people need to be educated about the pros and cons of marijuana legalization."

The mayor said he finds it difficult to say if the opening of a cannabis retail store in Brantford will be a good thing.

"'Certainly the legalization is something that needed to be done especially when we consider the medicinal uses," Friel said. "At the same time, there were people going to jail and having legal trouble because they had a small amount of marijuana.

"I think, as a society, we're adult enough to handle this."

Here's the list of municipalities that will get a standalone cannabis store by July, announced by the provincial government on Tuesday: Ajax, Belleville, Brantford, Burlington, Cambridge, Chatham-Kent, Guelph, Lindsay, Niagara Falls, Oakville, Oshawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Waterloo and Whitby.

These municipalities were announced earlier: Barrie, Brampton, Hamilton, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Mississauga, Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Vaughan and Windsor.

With files from Canadian Press.

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