THUNDER BAY – The city police service is recommending Thunder Bay city council choose to not allow private cannabis storefronts.
Thunder Bay city council on Monday night will receive a first report from administration about whether to permit brick and mortar retail outlets.
The provincial government has given Ontario municipalities until Jan. 22, 2019 to decide on whether to opt in or out of allowing storefronts. If the city elects to opt in, that decision is binding and cannot be reversed. A decision to opt out can be changed at any later time.
While the first report will be presented on Monday, council’s decision is scheduled to be made at their Jan. 14, 2019 meeting. When asked last month, six of the councillors indicated they would be in favour of opting in to allowing private pot shops.
Of the 15 city departments, divisions and city-related committees consulted, the Thunder Bay Police Service was the only one to take the position that the city should opt out.
“Without increased funding and additional officers, the enforcement and illegal cannabis supplies and storefronts will be unmanageable,” police said in a written submission.
“It is anticipated that storefronts will result in an increase in illicit drug sales as the province’s wholesale model will not be able to keep up with demand.”
The Thunder Bay Police Service said that in the event the city chooses to opt in, the force wants to see efforts being made to develop internal policy for retail store authorizations that “reflects the unique concerns and sensitive areas” of Thunder Bay.
Provincial legislation does not allow municipalities to determine how many stores will be permitted or where they will be located. There is a 15-day window for the public, including the municipality, to make submissions when a retailer applies to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario to open a storefront.
The Thunder Bay Drug Strategy is among the five to recommend opting in, based on having increased funding to help offset the anticipated costs associated with legalization.
“Permitting private retail will improve access for individuals who do not have access to legal cannabis through the online marketplace, reducing the likelihood that they will purchase through the illicit market,” the drug strategy said in their comments.
City administration projects Thunder Bay will receive nearly $130,000 in provincial funding in 2019 for costs associated with legalization. The city could receive an additional payment – a minimum of another nearly $130,000 – if they choose to opt in to allow private sales, while the province has offered $5,000 for municipalities that opt out.
Superior North EMS also recommends opting in, pointing to legally sold cannabis having greater certainty of allowing paramedics to know what a person consumed, particularly once edible products are legalized.
The Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission supports private retail, citing increased employment opportunities, opportunity for tourist travel from American border states and opportunity for increased tax revenues.
Nine of the responding bodies remained neutral, including the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, Tourism Thunder Bay and the city’s licensing and enforcement division.
The city has launched an online survey to gather public feedback. That survey closes on Jan. 2, 2019 and the results will be made available to council prior to their vote.
Mississauga and Markham are among Ontario municipalities that have decided to opt out while Toronto and Ottawa are the most high-profile cities to opt in.