THUNDER BAY – The city has set guidelines for where any future cannabis storefronts should be located, though it won’t have final say.
Thunder Bay city council on Monday night approved a policy developed by administration that will guide the municipality’s response for any applications to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario for a brick and mortar pot shop licence.
The Progressive Conservative provincial government last month announced that Thunder Bay would be one of five northern cities that will have a private cannabis storefront during the second round of pot shop openings, after Northwestern Ontario was shut out during the first round.
The city’s policy recommends that storefronts not be located within 150 metres of identified sensitive use areas, which include parks, recreational facilities, community centres, libraries, social support and treatment facilities and watercourses. Provincial legislation only requires dispensaries to be at least 150 metres away from schools.
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission provides municipalities and the general public with a 15-day window to provide submissions in response to licence applications.
Thunder Bay city manager Norm Gale, who sits on an Association of Ontario Municipalities reference group, said despite the city enacting a municipal policy, the final decision about whether a licence application is approved is out of the city’s hands but was complimentary of how the province has consulted with the group.
“It’s not our decision,” Gale said. “We have zoning bylaws that influence this but all this is, is (council) directing (city administration) on how we give input to the province once they ask for input when they’re considering site selection.”
The city’s policy also recommends that storefronts not set up shop in primarily residential neighbourhoods. City administration created a map that marks sensitive use areas and outlines suggested appropriate areas for a storefront, which include the Intercity zone and other established commercial areas.
Coun. Brian Hamilton (McKellar), who along with Coun. Aldo Ruberto (At-Large) voted against the policy, said there seems to be a demonization of cannabis.
“You can get alcohol nowadays at every liquor store, not that I want a weed store on every corner but for me personally I would like to let businesses set up shop,” Hamilton said. “It’s kind of frustrating the downtowns would be exempt from this new map.”
Thunder Bay Drug Strategy coordinator Cynthia Olsen, who under the policy will be the lead to provide the municipal response, said the guidelines were created to follow a precautionary approach.
“This is based on a public health approach,” Olsen said.
“While alcohol is widely available, it also causes the most harms to our society. Based on evidence in our community in the North West LHIN catchment area, the second leading substance of problem identified when entering into a treatment system is cannabis.”