Toronto residents and visitors will be able to buy cannabis in the city at retail stores in 2019.
In a 20-to-four vote on Thursday, Toronto council approved allowing privately run businesses to operate in the city’s borders under a provincial licensing regime.
Municipal staff said in a report permitting the stores to open would crack down on the illegal cannabis market and would reduce marijuana access by youth.
“I felt the risk of opting out, the risk of ending up with an uncontrolled spread of these illegal and pop-up dispensaries, which I think caused us grave problems and cost us huge amounts of money in terms of enforcement … was greater than adopting the approach we’ve taken,” Tory told reporters after the vote Thursday evening.
During the debate, councillors raised concerns about a lack of power being offered by the provincial government in order to regulate the number of retail stores.
Council passed a motion calling for powers to restrict store locations based on if the businesses were located near schools, community centres, youth facilities and other stores.
Under the provincial legislation, municipalities have a one-time opt-out deadline of Jan. 22. Stores will be allowed to open as soon as April 1.
However, Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said Thursday evening the Province will be changing its approach to one that is phased. He said only 25 stores will open at the beginning of April. Licences for those 25 stores will be handed out using a lottery system.
Previously announced regulations would allow stand-alone stores to be open any day between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. The rules state the businesses must be at least 150 metres away from schools and restrict entry to anyone under the age of 19.
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 Travis Dhanraj