You won’t be buying cannabis from a store in Newmarket.
Council officially opted out of permitting retail cannabis outlets at a special council meeting last night, ratifying the decision it made unanimously at a Jan. 7 committee meeting.
However, this time around, councillors Jane Twinney and Christina Bisanz voted to opt in.
The staff report recommending that the town opt in was moved for consideration by Twinney and seconded by Bisanz, who wasn’t present at last week’s meeting.
Council voted 7-2 against the staff recommendation to opt in, and instead approved opting out by passing the alternative recommendation crafted by Mayor John Taylor for last week’s meeting.
However, items in the recommendation were separated last night, which permitted Twinney and Bisanz to vote against opting out, but to vote in favour along with their council colleagues on the items that urged the province to provide adequate funding on the costs associated with legalization and to give municipalities greater control over where cannabis stores can be located and how many there will be.
As well, council directed staff to recommend how smoking and vaping cannabis in public places should be regulated.
Several councillors echoed each other in stating they could not approve opting in with so much “uncertainty” regarding the process and regulations for retail cannabis outlets.
The approved opt-out recommendation included the caveat that council would review the decision in one year, after studying how opting in has impacted other municipalities.
The mayor said “the No. 1 criteria” preventing his approval of opting in was not knowing where the retail outlets would be located and how many would be permitted.
“If we opt in, we could lobby for control of where they are, but if they start getting placed … we’re in, and if they’re placed in a place that feels inappropriate, we have only ourselves to blame … we can’t blame their policy,” Taylor said.
The council chamber was filled to capacity with supporters of opting out — Ward 1 Councillor Grace Simon said she was proud that 85 per cent of the attendees were residents of her ward and that “the vote goes to those who show up”.
The decision has to be what’s best for Newmarket, not neighbouring towns, Simon said.
“I want to look forward to continuing to make Newmarket extraordinary, building on families and youth activities. So many addresses have been made about youth and keeping them safe. It is never OK to allow youth to smoke marijuana, whether it’s legal or illegal, it’s not OK.”
Several deputations were made by residents, many of whom said they were concerned about marijuana addiction and the impact of legalization on youth.
Councillors commented that much of the feedback they had received about opting in was actually focused on the legalization of cannabis.
“We’re not debating the pros and cons of legalization, this decision has already been made at a federal level,” Twinney said, quoting from a Deloitte report, A society in transition, an industry ready to bloom, which states, “The legalization of recreational cannabis represents a major turning point for Canadian society. It’s also opening the doors to a dynamic, sophisticated industry that’s creating new jobs, new opportunities, and new revenues for governments while undermining the illegal cannabis trade.”
Bottom line, she believes opting in would have eventually eradicated illegal sales in the community and the crimes associated with them.
“As a municipality, we should be permitting our adult residents to have the choice to purchase a legal, safe product in an environment where they can also be well educated. And as decision-makers, we should be embracing this allowance of legal stores in our municipality to eradicate non-legal, potentially unsafe criminal sales that do not contribute to our community in any way or form, including taxes and safe products,” Twinney said.
“There is an argument out there that there is too much uncertainty, too much change going on, I have to say welcome to the world where we are forever evolving and forever changing,” she added.
She said by opting out, council is ignoring the fact that illegal cannabis sales have been occurring for decades within our municipality.
“Remember, the intent of legal product is to combat illegal criminal activity and reduce access to youth, one of the groups vulnerable to harm from cannabis.”
Bisanz also stated opting in would protect public health and end illegal sales.
“The question put before us at this time is not about whether or not there should be consumption of cannabis; it’s about where it will be made available to the residents.”
She supported opting in to provide access to citizens who choose to use legal cannabis in a controlled, regulated facility; reduce black market trade; give citizens access to licensed and trained staff on use; and access to provincial funds for enforcement.
The town could be “an early adopter”, Bisanz said.
“Could this be an opportunity to influence the change we want to see?” she added. “Not having a retail outlet to purchase the product is not going to change the fact that cannabis legalization is a reality."