Loyalist Township will solicit input from the public before deciding how it will proceed with cannabis retail and production facilities within its borders.
Following council direction last Monday, the municipality initiated a five-minute online survey to solicit opinion about the sale of cannabis products in the municipality. It also scheduled an open house for Monday, Jan. 7 at the Odessa council chambers.
Director of planning Murray Beckel told councillors that new provincial regulations require municipalities to inform the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (ACGO) whether they will opt in, allowing sales, or opt out and possibly lose future funding opportunities by Jan. 22, 2019. The province will be providing $15 million to municipalities to address cannabis legalization. Those opting out will receive $10,000. Those opting in could receive additional monies for unforeseen circumstances and they could receive a share a potential surplus in federal excise duty.
Beckel told council once municipalities opt in, that decision is final and cannot be reversed. Those that opt out at this time might still have an opportunity to reverse course and allow the sales.
Should the municipality allow retail sales, Beckel indicated the ACGO will deal with licensing of shops. There must be public notice of each individual application and municipalities will have an opportunity to provide written comment within 15 days of that notice. By regulation, proposed cannabis retailers cannot be located within 150 meters of the property line of any school.
Coun. Carol Parks asked if staff could host a town hall on the subject. Beckel replied there would be an incredibly tight timeline with holidays approaching as council would basically have to host the meeting the week of Jan. 7 in order to consider the subject at its regular meeting Jan. 14.
Her colleague, Penny Porter, recalled the lead up to a previous decision about cannabis retail where the municipality hosted an online survey and wondered if it could be done again. Beckel stated that was a “realistic option.”
Deputy mayor Jim Hegadorn asked if council, upon opting in, could legislate larger setbacks from schools. Beckel replied that setbacks for cannabis retail are not allowed to be any different than any other form of retail business.
Coun. Nathan Townend moved that council opt out of retail sales, but could not find a seconder. With that bid failed, Parks asked for the online survey and to table discussion until Jan. 14. Porter amended to include a public meeting.
“This is quite a decision to be made and we need to give as many opportunities to the public to give us feedback. I know it’s a very rushed decision and it’s unfortunate we’ve been put in this position where a decision has to be made very quickly — but having even said that, whatever we can do to get that feedback will be helpful for the process,” Porter said.
Townend agreed, stating the province has put municipalities “between a rock and a hard place,” using that believe to justify his stance that Loyalist should be opting out at this time.
“Regardless of public input, which I agree is always important, I’m not sure we’re going to have enough information by that point in time to make an informed decision. The opt-out option provides that option at a later stage. If we opt in, we’re in. I feel, personally, that if there are other municipalities that choose to opt out, the province will have to go back to the drawing board with better options for how they roll out retail.”
The survey, now posted at loyalisttownship.ca, features five questions. Among them are concerns people might have with retail options and three choices of the option they believe council should take — opting in, opting out for now, or opting out permanently.
The open house will be at 7 p.m. on Jan. 7.
Also, Dec. 10, council decided to take a wait-and-see approach on controlling the location and design standards of medical and recreational cannabis cultivating and processing facilities, pending the result of that public feedback.
Beckel told council staff was getting inquiries about the facilities — in particular, those seeking micro licences for facilities up to 200 square metres — and felt it was time to get direction from council.
In a report, Beckel told council it has a range of potential options including doing nothing and using its zoning bylaw to regulate applications; defining cannabis cultivation and processing as industrial in nature and allowing it only in industrial zones; making a distinction between standard and micro facilities and allowing the larger facilities only in industrial areas; restricting operations in rural areas only to exterior cultivation; or prohibiting cultivation and processing altogether.
Beckel indicated he didn’t feel doing nothing was appropriate, nor did he feel production and cultivation should be outlawed because it could offer employment and assessment growth.
Asked by Townend what he preferred, Beckel said he’d like to limit zones for production.
“I strongly believe these cannabis processing facilities are industrial in scale, given their electricity needs and the water they use. My thought on it is I think it’s proper to have it in the industrial parks only.”
Porter successfully moved to receive Beckel’s report and take not action. She cited the value of getting public input, particularly on the distinction between agricultural and industrial uses.
Hegadorn, concerned with timing, wanted to see council man a decision.
“I think we have to get on with it,” he said.
In other Loyalist Township council news…
n Council approved three changes to the municipality’s medical tiered response agreement upon recommendation from fire chief Fred Stephenson.
While the township’s fire department generally attends medical calls for vital signs absent, unconscious patient, airway obstruction, absence of breathing, motor vehicle accidents, requests from “on-scene” crew for medical lift assist, and other Code 4 calls were response time is greater than 15 minutes, one change would allow firefighters to be notified of all paramedics calls on Amherst Island to provide support while families can wait up to 45 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.
Two other changes eliminate calls where the firefighers would be duplicating medical services. They will no longer go to corrections institutions in Bath and Millhaven unless fire personnel are requested as trained medical personnel are on site and they will also not respond to long-term care homes unless requested by Lennox and Addington County paramedics as those facilities also have trained medical staff on duty around the clock.
Stephenson said neighbouring municipalities like Greater Napanee and Kingston have similar notations in their agreements. He expected a slightly positive impact on the bottom line as a result of the changes.