An Ontario city council has shut down the opportunity to allow cannabis retail, with concern expressed over the possible “clustering” of stores despite challenges to that idea.
As a large jurisdiction in the country’s biggest cannabis market, Mississauga — Canada’s sixth most populous city — council voting yes could have given a sizable boost to provincial sales, created local jobs and sent a message to other municipalities that have yet to allow legal stores.
Many domestic licensed producers have blamed lacklustre revenue on the slow rollout of cannabis stores in Ontario.
But in an 8-4 vote Wednesday, council voted against a motion to allow pot shops, despite support from a majority of residents and the city’s mayor.
I voted to opt-in for the following reasons:
— Bonnie Crombie 🇨🇦 (@BonnieCrombie) June 9, 2021
Prior to the vote, industry speakers presented to council, breaking down the importance of legal weed in terms of consumer safety and protecting youth. Representatives spoke from Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, the Ontario Cannabis Store and Aurora Cannabis Inc. (TSX and NYSE: ACB), among others.
Council discussion returned to the topic of combating the illegal market before the final vote, but another issue was too big to ignore for some: the clustering of cannabis stores.
Coun. Carolyn Parrish was firm in her objection to pot shops because clustering seemed inevitable, given the growth of the industry. “It’s growing like mad. It’s like Jack and the beanstalk — the bean is going crazy.”
Comparing growth of the industry to Hamilton, Ont., Parrish argued once retail cannabis was allowed, it would be difficult to dictate where stores go without control over zoning. “You can’t opt out once you opt in,” she added.
“I’m not against cannabis. I’m not against alcohol. People have to do what they do, but I don’t want to do it under these rules. They make no sense,” Parrish concluded.
Too many weed stores clustering together isn’t really an issue, says Deepak Anand, CEO of Materia Ventures and VP of NORML Canada, who was one of the industry speakers on Wednesday.
“Councillors in Mississauga, for whatever reason, seem to be hell bent on this clustering issue, which there’s really no rationale behind why,” he explains.
He argues the grouping of stores in any market is something that works itself out, and trying to make clustering a hill worth dying on is “certainly challenging.”
Sorry #Mississauga, no legal cannabis stores for you. Your councillors are still having a temper tantrum that they can’t control ‘clustering’.
— Trina Fraser (@trinafraser) June 9, 2021
“Quite frankly, they’re suggesting this is not a matter of moral issue, but I think they very much are, and I think they’re hesitant,” Anand says, adding polling shows support for retail cannabis from constituents, echoing what the city’s mayor had to say at the meeting.
Mayor Bonnie Crombie says polling has shown nearly 70-per-cent support for cannabis retail, while she herself advocates for legal sales. “I support it because it’s cleaner, safer, and regulated. People use it and want it.”
Crombie said opposition to bringing in retail sales “makes us look archaic” and “behind the times.” The mayor advocated for the economic development retail cannabis would bring, and its success in other communities. She said she didn’t understand the issue of clustering.
“There’s clustering of bars. There’s clustering of hamburger shops. They all sell different products,” she said.
“The sky has not fallen anywhere else. Things have not changed dramatically in those cities [where retail cannabis is allowed], other than the illegal market has declined, illegal trade is gone, and illegal products are getting off the street.”
The idea that Mississauga would be able to have control over choosing where cannabis retails stores would go or other components council wants authority over, was shut down by Crombie. She argues the provincial government isn’t going to give that control because if it was going to, it would have already.
Almost 70 Ont. municipalities don’t allow cannabis stores, including Markham, Vaughan and Richmond Hill.