Proposed Cannabis Outlet in Ontario Town Raising Concerns

February 3, 2021 Updated: February 5, 2021

A proposed cannabis retail outlet located next to a youth centre and a community living space for special needs adults is raising eyebrows in Hanover, Ontario.

Locals became aware of the issue after it was reported in the local newspaper that True North Cannabis Co. had filed an application with the province’s liquor and gaming commission for a store in that location.

“It was just a little article talking about three applications for retail stores, and when I contacted one of the town councillors about it, they were as surprised as I was,” said Greg Dow, executive director of Bruce Grey Mentorship, which runs year-round programming for children aged 6–16 in the rural farming town of about 7,600.

Bruce Grey’s youth centre is next door to the proposed location for the cannabis store.

“It’s a kids-first space with a yard in front of our building, so we do a lot of activities out front. We’ve got a little basketball net, we’ve got a garden there, we’ve got a campfire pit as well,” Dow said in an interview, adding that having a cannabis outlet next door would be “a risk factor for the children.”

In January 2019, Hanover council voted unanimously to allow retail cannabis stores within its municipal boundaries, a decision all municipalities were confronted with after the province passed its Cannabis Act in December 2017. This set the stage for Queen’s Park to have jurisdiction over recreational cannabis in Ontario as soon as the federal government’s Cannabis Act legalizing the drug came into force in October 2018.

As of Feb. 2, there are four pending applications with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) for retail store authorizations (RSAs) in the town.

Three are proposed for Hanover’s main street, 10th Street. True North Cannabis’s application is for a residential area on 11th Avenue, in a current laundromat beside Bruce Grey’s youth centre and the town’s community living facility.

“We have no interest in [a cannabis retailer] being in the laundromat beside the adult rehabilitation centre and Bruce Grey,” said Don Tedford, the town council’s director of development, who regularly monitors the AGCO website for cannabis retail applications in the town.

“We were totally surprised, to tell you the truth, that this is how the commission ended up doing it. Even when you get a liquor licence, they still circulate the municipality to ask if we’re happy with that property being licensed—but not for cannabis,” Tedford told The Epoch Times.

Attempts to contact True North Cannabis, headquartered in Cambridge, Ont., were unsuccessful, but according to the AGCO’s website, as of Feb. 2 the company has 36 pending retail store authorization applications peppered through small Ontario towns like Hanover, Gravenhurst, and Haliburton.

AGCO spokesman Raymond Kahnert said in an email that the RSA application for the proposed location on 11th Avenue “was submitted in early December 2020, so it is in the early stages of due diligence and eligibility review.”

“Residents of Hanover will have an opportunity to submit a comment on a proposed location when it reaches the Public Notice stage,” Kahnert said, referring to the 15-day period where proponents post a notice at the proposed location and the AGCO accepts public input.

“We encourage all residents of a community, as well as municipal officials, to submit comments.”

Kahnert also noted 2018 provincial Cannabis Act regulations governing acceptable retail locations that considered “matters of public interest,” including “protecting public health and safety; protecting youth and restricting their access to cannabis; and preventing illicit activities in relation to cannabis.”

In addition to these regulations, Ontario law prohibits cannabis retailers from being within 150 metres of a school.

To obtain an RSA, applicants must have a Retail Operator Licence. Application for this licence requires paying a non-refundable $6,000 licence fee and involves criminal background checks.

In November 2016, the federal government’s expert panel tasked with advising cabinet on legalizing cannabis released its final report, which recommended putting “limits on the density and location of storefronts, including appropriate distance from schools, community centres, public parks, etc.”

Dow at Bruce Grey Mentorship vows “to do whatever we can to stop this [cannabis] shop.”

“This is the perfect location for us, we have an arts program space, there’s a park one minute walk from here, we’re close to schools and a lot of our kids live in this area,” he said, adding that he’s not against retail cannabis in Hanover, but that it belongs on main street.

“Our area has a higher density of low-income families and a number of our youth live nearby.”

Tedford said there are currently no legal retail cannabis stores in town but that a local “head shop” has been busted for selling contraband marijuana. In October last year, police also disrupted a methamphetamine and cocaine trafficking ring.

He believes True North Cannabis’s application will be rejected.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that they won’t be allowed to go in that location,” he said, adding that he spoke previously with an unidentified person interested in purchasing and renovating the laundromat on 11th Avenue, but didn’t know it was in relation to a cannabis store.

“There’s a gentleman trying to buy the building, and all he’s ever done with us was talk about putting the apartments on the second floor,” he said. “I had no idea he was also talking about a cannabis shop.”