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Should Toronto wards be allowed to ban cannabis dispensaries?

Last Updated Dec 12, 2018 at 9:20 pm EDT

Since recreational cannabis became legal in October, individual provinces and municipalities have been working to iron out the finer details of what the new regime will look like in their jurisdictions.

In Ontario, municipalities have until January 22 to decide whether or not they will permit the sale of cannabis at privately-owned retail stores in their communities.

Markham announced its intention to opt out of selling cannabis back in August and council confirmed the decision with a vote Wednesday. The City of Mississauga also announced Wednesday that it is choosing to opt out of having cannabis retail stores in the city.

In Toronto, some city councillors want the choice to be further individualized, by giving each city ward the option to choose whether cannabis dispensaries can operate within their boundaries.

Scarborough-Agincourt councillor Jim Karygiannis says he will introduce the motion at Thursday’s council meeting.

“If municipalities are permitted to ‘opt out’, then wards, which are the size of many of these municipalities, should also have that option,” Karygiannis said in a statement issued Wednesday.

First-time Toronto councillor Mike Colle has also stated that his first order of business is to ensure Toronto has a say on where cannabis stores are allowed to set up shop.

“We have no say. I’m worried about these shops opening up everywhere — next to libraries, playgrounds, mental health facilities. We have to have a say in where these retail outlets go,” he told CityNews last week.

Mayor John Tory says he feels Toronto should allow cannabis stores in the city, but agrees that more municipal control is needed over where they are allowed to operate.

“I think it is better for us to opt in because it leaves less control in the hands of organized crime and other people who presently control that market, but better that we should have a degree of ability to regulate it to a closer extent so that we can protect neighbourhoods and families,” he said at a Heritage Toronto event Wednesday.

Tory also said he has expressed his concerns in the past and wants the City of Toronto to have “greater latitude to regulate, within the context of the provincial rules, the location of cannabis stores.” However, he admits that it likely involves a change to provincial law, which he does not see as forthcoming.

Referring to Coun. Karygiannis’ motion, Tory said it will be a tough-sell to the province.

“That is something that is also, I think, going to be a difficult proposition to sell to the province of Ontario. I think they’ve already said that they have a negative reaction to that,” he said, while adding that he hopes the province will listen to their suggestions.

The motion is set to be debated in city council on Thursday.