Richmond Hill, Markham, and Oakville Plan to Reject Marijuana Retail Stores

Waterloo police chief notes 'alarming' rates of marijuana use among youth, suggests fostering prevention
August 18, 2018 Updated: September 4, 2018

Mayors from some municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area are saying their residents don’t want marijuana stores in their community and are planning to opt out of allowing retail stores to open next April.

“The majority of comments that we received from our community was that they were not interested in a retail outlet at all,” said an emailed statement to The Epoch Times from Richmond Hill Mayor David Barrow’s office.

Markham and Oakville municipal governments have also said their cities will be opting out.

“When approached by the previous provincial government to be one of the first locations, Mayor [Frank] Scarpitti rejected that opportunity and subsequently Markham Council also passed a motion rejecting a retail outlet,” reads an emailed statement from a City of Markham spokesperson.

The new plan announced by the Ford government on Aug. 13 lays out a two-part process which gives the Ontario government control over online sales, with the retail component given to the private sector. Municipalities are allowed to opt out of having retail stores if they so choose.

The previous Liberal provincial government’s plan was to have 150 retail stores in place by 2020, run by the province’s liquor control board.

Barrow said the changes to the legislation “are welcomed,” as there was no dialogue with federal or provincial governments since the previous Ontario government’s plan was announced in 2017.

“Council stated that Richmond Hill would not be a willing host at that time,” he said.

Barrow has also indicated that over 1,000 residents have signed a petition asking that no marijuana stores be opened in Richmond Hill.

“The concern with the community is the fact that it will be seen to be an acceptable thing to do, and most parents don’t want their children to be thinking that that’s the case,” he said in an interview with CTV.

Oakville Mayor Rob Burton is also planning to opt out of the retail channel, which will be run by heavily vetted private sellers and is scheduled to open on April 1, 2019.

“Voters want to know where you stand, and so I’m letting people know that I’m for opting out. I and most of council weren’t happy with the previous government’s plan for a government store in Oakville,” Burton told Global News on Aug. 17.

Several other municipalities across in the GTA, including Ajax, Brampton, and Vaughan are waiting for more information before deciding.

Toronto Mayor John Tory has said Canada’s largest city will likely choose to opt in to retail distribution.

Extensive consultations between the provincial government and local municipalities are expected to take place over the next eight months. Details related to public health, law enforcement, and the business community need to be worked out prior to the opening of retail marijuana outlets.

Marijuana is set to be legalized across the country on Oct. 17.

‘We’ve got a substance use challenge’

The three-day Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference took place this week and included a panel discussion on cannabis legalization on Aug. 22.

One of the speakers, Waterloo Regional Police Services Chief Bryan Larkin, raised the issue of the high rates of marijuana use among young people and how to curb that trend.

“If you look at our rates of use of cannabis and other drugs amongst young people, we should pause for a moment and recognize it’s alarming. We should pause for a moment as municipal leaders and recognize that we’ve got a substance use challenge in Ontario and in Canada,” he said.

“I think we’re not talking enough about prevention,” he added, noting Canada should be looking at the Iceland model that has seen cannabis use among young people drastically reduced.

“I think that really we have to move the discussion upstream,” he said. “Ideally we should be reducing, and our goal should be to reduce. Perpetual substance use is not healthy.”

Larkin said that by raising the issue of cannabis use among young people he wanted to “change the thought process or dialogue a little bit from policing and enforcement to public health, to prevention, and to building a healthier community.”

“There’s a larger dialogue behind the scenes we should be having,” he said.

Dr. Paula Stewart, chief medical officer of health for the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit in Ontario, provided some statistics on marijuana use among youth.

“Looking at the data, we have about one in four people in grades 9 to 12 say that they’ve used cannabis in the last year. And it goes up—60 percent of those in grade 12 say they used cannabis in the last year.” Stewart said in an interview.

She said young people need to understand that marijuana “is a chemical that is not natural to our bodies.”

“[Legalization] doesn’t mean that this is a healthy product and it’s OK to use it.”

The Pediatricians Alliance of Ontario (PAO) has warned that the legalization of marijuana could pose a serious risk to the health of children and teens, noting that after marijuana was legalized in Colorado in 2014, a children’s hospital in the state saw a fourfold increase in the number of teenagers coming to emergency rooms due to marijuana intoxication.

“The public needs to understand that marijuana use has been proven to cause serious damage to the developing brains of children,” said PAO president Dr. Hirotaka Yamashiro in a statement last year.  “Parents and caregivers should be taking precautions.”

With additional reporting by Rahul Vaidyanath