Toronto staff recommend allowing cannabis retail stores to operate in city

Toronto municipal staff are recommending that city council should not opt out of allowing cannabis retail stores to operate in the city limits.

“It is anticipated that prohibiting legal cannabis retail stores would have the unintended consequence of encouraging the illegal market to continue to operate, either through storefronts selling illegal products or by driving illegal cannabis sales underground,” a newly released report being considered by Toronto city council on Thursday said.

“This would undermine efforts by all levels of government to prevent youth access to cannabis and would require increased municipal and police enforcement to address illegal operations.”

Under legislation announced by the Ontario government earlier this year for allowing privately run cannabis stores, the province’s municipalities have a one-time opt-out deadline of Jan. 22. Stores will be allowed to open as soon as April 1.

The stand-alone stores can be open any day between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m., but the businesses must be at least 150 metres away from schools and restrict entry to anyone under 19 years old.

Applications for licences will begin on Dec. 17 and illegal cannabis retailers who were operating after legalization on Oct. 17 will not be eligible to receive cannabis sales licences.

According to the Toronto staff report, there were at least 92 illegal storefronts operating. When marijuana became legal on Oct. 17, 56 of the 92 businesses were closed. Staff said as of the end of November, it is believed there were approximately 11 illegal storefronts.

In 2017, council endorse the previous Liberal government’s plan for government-run retail stores. However, Thursday’s meeting is the first time council will have a chance to weigh in on the Progressive Conservative government’s plans for cannabis sales.

Mayor John Tory released a statement Monday morning calling on the Ontario government to give municipalities more authority on determining where stores should be allowed.

“While I don’t believe saying ‘no’ to cannabis retail stores in our city is a practical position, we should be maximizing safety and the protection of children and neighbourhoods from any negative effects that may come about as a result of these stores,” he wrote, adding he will ask council to support his position.

The only current legal way of getting recreational marijuana in the province is online through the government-run retailer Ontario Cannabis Store.

Approximately $40 million will be given to local governments across the province over two years to help with costs associated with the legalization of marijuana. The funding will be distributed in two rounds. Staff said the City would receive more than $3 million in the first round.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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