New London councillor says decision to opt-in to private marijuana retail an easy ‘yes’

London’s new city council is set to make one of its first major decisions with a deadline fast approaching to approve or deny private retail of marijuana in the city, but one new councillor says it’s an easy choice.

Ward 2 Coun. Shawn Lewis notes that through the online store and the black market, recreational pot is already in the city. He says opting out of private retail would only result in residents taking their business elsewhere and the city being left out of some major provincial funding that could go towards policing or social services costs.

“We are already getting about $450,000 from the province of Ontario right off the bat from an initial $15 million that they had allocated for municipalities,” he said.

“Moving ahead, there will be an additional share of another $15 million that will be split between communities who opt-in.”

Those that opt-in will also receive a certain portion of the federal excise duty. If the province reaches $100-million in its portion of the duty over the first two years, 50 per cent of anything above that will be split between the opt-in communities.

“In addition to the provincial payments, there’s going to be the benefit of this being an economic driver. It is going to create jobs, it is going to fill up vacant retail spaces in the city, landlords are going to start receiving rental income, the companies that locate there are going to hire employees, those employees are going to be eating, drinking, living in our community and contributing to the tax base.”

Lewis notes that one major con is that the city won’t have a say over where the shops set up.

“That said, like any retail business, you are going to have market forces kicking in here. It’s not like every vacant retail spot in the city is suddenly going to fill up with a marijuana store. There’s only going to be so much demand.”

Under the Ontario Cannabis Licence Act, municipalities have until Jan. 22 to make a decision. However, those that opt-out can later reverse that choice while those that opt-in cannot go back.

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