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Newmarket's neighbour OKs retail cannabis stores

Bradford West Gwillimbury council votes unanimously to opt in

The Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury is officially opting in to allow retail cannabis stores, council voted Tuesday night.

Councillors gave several reasons for deciding to opt in, including licensed marijuana producer MedReleaf, one of Ontario’s largest indoor cannabis production facilities, that is also the town’s largest employer with 350 staff members.

“It would be very hypocritical of me to say, ‘Yeah, you can grow it in my community, but you can’t sell it in my community,” said Deputy Mayor James Leduc during the council meeting.

The vote was unanimous, except Coun. Peter Ferragine refrained from discussing the issue during the meeting and voting. He declared pecuniary interest because, as a real-estate agent, he has shown clients properties in town for potential retail pot shops.

The other councillors also cited the results of an online survey run by the town between Dec. 21 and Jan. 8 that garnered 857 responses from members of the public, 52 per cent of whom “strongly support” retail pot shops.

“There were not a lot of fence sitters,” said Caleigh Clubine, the town’s community relations officer, who presented the survey’s final numbers to council Tuesday.

She said 31 per cent of respondents “strongly oppose” opting in, 11 per cent “somewhat support” it, three per cent “somewhat oppose” it, and one per cent is undecided.

As well, most respondents also said they would rather purchase cannabis from a store than online, Clubine added.

Most of their concerns about retail cannabis stores were about how close they are located to “places where children tend to be,” she said, but it was “pretty much split down the middle” on whether the town should make more restrictions on where tobacco and cannabis can be smoked.

The majority of the survey respondents were between ages 30 and 59, she said.

“I’m going to opt in because the public wants it. It doesn’t mean I agree with it,” said Coun. Mark Contois.

Members of the public also had an opportunity at Tuesday’s council meeting to share their opinions about retail cannabis stores during an open forum, but no residents brought it up.

Coun. Ron Orr said his reasoning for voting in favour of opting in is about saving lives.

“A lot of these drug dealers now are lacing marijuana. If those people can go to a store in Bradford and get pure marijuana, (that’s a good thing). It’s scary out there. It’s important we look at this as saving lives,” he said. "So many people are getting off of other manufactured drugs and getting on cannabis oil." 

Andrea Paine, national director of government relations for Aurora Cannabis, which owns MedReleaf, spoke at Tuesday’s meeting to urge council to support opting in.

“It is the best way to eliminate the black market (and) legalization gives us the best chance of reducing consumption rates by youth — by getting cannabis out of the hands of dealers and shifting sales into legal and highly-regulated retail stores that are legally required to keep kids out,” she said.

“Simply put, these goals cannot be achieved — and will not be achieved — if we close our borders to cannabis retail stores.”

Earlier this week, in a special committee of the whole meeting, Newmarket council voted against allowing retail cannabis stores, with a final decision to be made Jan. 14. Barrie’s committee of the whole, which is made up of the city’s council members, voted in favour of opting in. Barrie council is expected to make a final decision next week.

Leduc referenced Barrie’s decision, specifically amendments to ban smoking and vaping cannabis in all public places, including sidewalks, and doubling the distance pot shops can be from certain facilities, such as schools, daycares, addiction centres, and parks, from 150 metres to 300 metres.

“I like what Barrie did,” Leduc said.

Council asked Town of BWG to report back with information on how the town can change its no smoking bylaw and make amendments “somewhat the same as what the City of Barrie is doing,” said Mayor Rob Keffer.

The town should also trust the Ontario government has municipalities’ best interests at heart, said Keffer, noting York-Simcoe MPP and Attorney General Caroline Mulroney is involved in putting the regulations together.

But Coun. Raj Sandhu expressed his displeasure with the federal government for “blackmailing municipalities” by saying if they do not opt in to allow retail cannabis stores they will not receive certain money.

The government has promised $15 million split between municipalities that agree to allow retail pot shops, and an additional $15 million to municipalities to help them cover costs related to cannabis legalization, with each community getting at least $5,000.

Still, Sandhu was in favour of opting in, noting it could help save lives and he does not believe underage kids are going to be able to buy it in stores.

“I’d rather have a store than get a drug laced with something that will kill them,” he said.

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Jenni Dunning

About the Author: Jenni Dunning

Jenni Dunning is a community editor and reporter who covers news in the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury.
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