It ain’t over till it’s over.
Those renowned words of Yogi Berra could be the guiding wisdom for Newmarket Councillor Jane Twinney, who told NewmarketToday she will try for a second time to bring into the public domain for debate the staff report recommending the Town opt in on retail cannabis outlets at a Jan. 15 special council meeting.
With a looming Jan. 22 deadline imposed by the Ontario government, Newmarket council next Tuesday will make a final and binding decision on storefront cannabis stores.
The 29-page staff report was not discussed at the Jan. 7 special committee of the whole meeting because Twinney’s motion to bring it forward found no support among her seven council colleagues who were present.
Councillors Bob Kwapis and Christina Bisanz were not in attendance, and Mayor John Taylor, as chair of the meeting, was not permitted to vote on the councillor’s move.
Council procedure requires that a motion needs to be seconded by another councillor to be successful.
“It took me aback because it was something I’ve never experienced,” Twinney said. “I’ve been on council for eight years and I don’t ever recall having a member of council move a staff recommendation to get it on the floor to discuss and not get a seconder. Because you move something doesn’t mean you approve it, it’s just to get it on the floor to discuss.”
Instead, Newmarket council voted on an alternative resolution and recommendations crafted by Mayor John Taylor and circulated to councillors in advance of the Jan. 7 meeting.
Council unanimously approved that resolution, which said: Newmarket is not a willing host of cannabis retail stores; that council will review its decision in one year; that town staff make recommendations about how the smoking/vaping of cannabis in public places should be regulated in Newmarket; and that council express to the Ontario government that it establish a revenue-sharing agreement with all municipalities to help offset the costs associated with cannabis legalization regardless of the location of retail pot shops.
Meanwhile, the staff report made six recommendations, including that Newmarket notify the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario that it is willing to host recreational cannabis retail stores, to amend or draft new bylaws to regulate the smoking/vaping of cannabis in public places, and that the town express to the province that it wants greater planning authority over the location of such stores.
“Based on an analysis of potential negative and positive effects of recreational cannabis retail stores, staff conclude that allowing cannabis retail stores better serves the public policy goals of promoting public health, supporting economic development, and reducing profits to criminal enterprise,” the report states.
“It’s like the staff report doesn’t exist anymore, it never gets to be voted on,” said Twinney, who supports the recommendation to allow retail pot shops. “I’m going to ask that council would, hopefully, consider and support having the report reintroduced. In consideration of the extensive interest in this and because of the support among the community, it would be pertinent to at least get it on the floor for discussion and go to a vote. And we had two council members missing (at the Jan. 7 meeting).”
So far in York Region, Newmarket’s staff recommendation stands alone in making the case to allow the retail sale of cannabis in the municipality.
Markham, Richmond Hill, King Township and East Gwillimbury have passed resolutions prohibiting pot shops from opening up in their communities. The councils of Vaughan, Aurora, Georgina, and Whitchurch-Stouffville all have upcoming votes.
Neighbouring Bradford West Gwillimbury this week declared itself a willing host to the retail stores. As that town’s Deputy Mayor James Leduc said, it would be “very hypocritical” not to give the OK given the town’s largest employer of about 350 people, MedReleaf, operates one of Ontario’s largest indoor cannabis production facilities there.
“I think we’re losing out on opportunities on so many fronts, from economic development to more money coming into the town,” Twinney said. “In the next decade, we’re going to be struggling to keep taxes low. And that’s a good argument in itself. If some of that extra money coming in can help us with other projects, why are we saying no to business?”
What’s compelling, as well, she added, is the fact that retail cannabis stores provide a place for people to purchase a legal, regulated and safe product.
“I don’t think the world is going to come crashing down if we have a store or two, and I don’t think the underground market is going to go away overnight, but eventually it will,” Twinney said. “If you don’t start somewhere, you’re never going to get there.”
While Mayor Taylor said that council takes its staff advice seriously, there are other perspectives across the region.
“This issue is such a unique one, and so divided in so many ways, not just in public opinion but also the research,” Taylor said at the Jan. 7 meeting. “There’s a variety of literature out there and it comes down on many sides.”
For instance, Taylor offered counter-evidence to the three pillars on which the staff report is based.
With regard to promoting public health, Taylor said York Region’s medical officer of health, Dr. Karim Kurji, expressed specific concerns about people under 25 smoking cannabis, and the legal age to purchase the product is 19.
In terms of reducing profits to criminal enterprise, Taylor said York Regional Police Chief Eric Jolliffe sees no evidence that criminal activity is reduced by cannabis legalization and, in fact, in some American states, underground cannabis markets are thriving despite legalization.
On the final point of supporting economic development, the mayor discounted that altogether.
“The economic loss in one year of potentially one store — and we may not even get a store — can’t be that much,” he said.
Ultimately, Twinney voted in favour of the alternative resolution but said she felt stuck between “a rock and a hard place”.
If she didn’t vote in favour, that would mean she doesn’t support council revisiting the issue in one year, along with its call for greater municipal control over the location and number of retail pot shops, and an appropriate revenue-sharing agreement with the province.
But she is hopeful she’ll land support from at least one other council member to re-introduce the staff report for discussion and an eventual vote.
“I feel like there’s a lot of fear-mongering going on,” Twinney said.
Here is the resolution on retail cannabis shops that garnered a 7-0 vote in favour on Jan. 7:
Whereas local municipalities are being given no control on the location, or the number, of retail Cannabis stores in their communities;
Whereas there are a number of outstanding questions regarding the economic and social impact of the establishment of a new legal retail system for cannabis in Ontario;
Whereas there is uncertainty regarding the number of retail stores that may be allowed to open and regarding the amount of revenue to be shared;
Whereas municipalities are only being given until January the 22nd 2019 to opt in or opt out;
Whereas a municipality may opt out and later opt in but cannot opt out once they have opted in;
Now therefore be it resolved:
1. That the report entitled Recreational Cannabis dated January 7th, 2019 be received as information; and,
2. That Newmarket Town Council advise the Hon. Victor Fedeli, Minister of Finance; the Hon. Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Francophone Affairs and Attorney General; and the Hon. Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, that Newmarket is not a willing host of a cannabis retail locations in our community; and,
3. That the Town Clerk be directed to provide the required notice of Council's decision to opt-out of permitting retail cannabis stores to (i) the Registrar under the Alcohol, Cannabis, and Gaming Regulation and Public Protection Act, 1996, (ii) the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), and (iii) the Province of Ontario within three (3) business days of the date of passing; and,
4. That Council express to the Ontario government its position that municipalities should be given greater planning authority over the location of private retail cannabis stores; and,
5. That Council express to the Ontario government that regardless of whether a municipality is a willing host of a retail store, the Province be requested to enter into a revenue sharing arrangement with all Ontario municipalities, to ensure local governments receive an appropriate share of the revenue generated from cannabis sales to help offset the associated enforcement, public health and social costs that will be incurred by municipalities regardless of a retail presence or not; and,
6. That Staff be directed to continue to review information regarding cannabis retail stores as it becomes available as well as the experiences of other comparable municipalities to be brought back to Council in the form of a report approximately one year from today for further consideration; and,
7. That Staff be directed to prepare amendments or new by-laws as required and return with recommendations as to how the smoking and vaping of cannabis in public places should be regulated in Newmarket by March/April 2019; and,
8. That a copy of this resolution be forwarded to the Hon. Christine Elliott, Member of Provincial Parliament for Newmarket-Aurora.
A special council meeting to consider the above recommendations made by the Committee of the Whole on Jan. 7 will be held Tuesday, Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. in the Municipal Offices Council Chambers, 395 Mulock Dr. The public is welcome to attend.
You can view the full agenda here.