THUNDER BAY – City administration is recommending that private pot shops be allowed in Thunder Bay.
Thunder Bay city council on Monday night is expected to decide whether or not to opt in to having brick and mortar retail storefronts in the city.
The Progressive Conservative provincial government has given Ontario municipalities until Jan. 22 to take a stance of whether to permit or prohibit private retailers from operating physical storefronts. If no decision is made, the municipality is considered to have automatically opted in by default.
Municipalities that initially choose to opt out can change their decision at any time, but a decision to permit shops can’t be reversed.
When informally polled in November, eight of the 13 members of council expressed varying degrees of openness to allowing the storefronts.
City administration had previously consulted with 15 departments, divisions and city-related committees, with the Thunder Bay Police Service the only one to take the position of recommending the decision to opt out.
At the time, the police service’s response cited enforcement being unmanageable without increased funding and additional officers.
Northwestern Ontario municipalities that have already decided to opt in include Ear Falls, Marathon, Neebing, Oliver Paipoonge, Red Rock and Sioux Lookout while Dorion, Emo and the Township of Lake of the Woods have chosen to opt out.
Larger cities that have also chosen to permit storefronts include Greater Sudbury, Guelph, London, Ottawa, Sarnia and Toronto while two Greater Toronto Area municipalities – Markham and Mississauga – are the largest to have declined.
Thunder Bay is expected to initially receive nearly $130,000 from the province, and is likely to get another payment of at least that amount in March if the city allows storefronts.
City administration cautions that municipalities are limited from restricting where shops can be located and how many can operate. Stores must be located at least 150 metres away from a school, but no additional restrictions have been regulated.
The city’s only opportunity to provide input on proposed retail site locations is through a 15-day window in the application process where submissions can be made through the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.
The provincial government has capped the maximum number of storefronts in Ontario at 25, with only two permitted in the north region and only in municipalities with a population of more than 50,000 that have not opted out.
Administration notes that those provisions means that Thunder Bay might not have any stores, or could end up with one or both of the locations designated for the north.