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Guelph council approves allowing cannabis retail stores to operate in city

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford contradicts a campaign promise to increase the buffer zone between Ontario Cannabis Stores and schools. Ford called the former Liberal government “ridiculous” for allowing a pot shop within 400 metres of Toronto elementary schools. As Farah Nasser shows us, under his government's new legislation, cannabis stores could be much closer – Nov 16, 2018

Guelph residents will be allowed to purchase recreational cannabis at brick-and-mortar retail stores in the city starting next year.

In a 10-3 vote on Monday night, Guelph council decided to opt in to the provincial government’s model and allow privately owned businesses to set up shop within the city limits.

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READ MORE: Ontario government changes rules for pot shops, only 25 stores to open April 1

“I believe opting in is the right decision. I’m a free market person, [and] it’s a legal product now,” said Mayor Cam Guthrie before the vote, noting it was the federal government’s decision to legalize cannabis and not the city’s.

“This is a perfect example of how upper levels of government influence and change what has to happen on the local, boots-on-the-ground level.”

Many councillors voiced their concerns over the limited power the city would have in deciding where the retail stores would go, which will be left up to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.

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The AGCO’s rules have established a minimum distance of 150 metres between the stores and primary and secondary schools.

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The city will have the ability to provide comments to the AGCO on each store’s licensing application, but the agency is not bound by those comments in its decision.

Staff will provide comments to the Crown agency on applications that fall within 150 metres of the University of Guelph, Conestoga College, playgrounds, libraries, registered daycares, recreation centres, Shelldale Community Centre, the Homewood Health Centre and the Community Health Centre.

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“I don’t agree with what the province has done at all,” said Ward 1 Coun. Bob Bell, who voted against the recommendation.

“I think the sale of cannabis needs to be highly regulated, and not giving us the ability to highly regulate it — I don’t understand.”

Under the provincial legislation, municipalities have a one-time opt-out deadline of Jan. 22, 2019, and stores will be allowed to open as soon as April 1.

However, only 25 stores will open at first. Licences for those 25 stores will be handed out using a lottery system.

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Approximately $30 million will be given to municipalities to help with costs associated with the legalization of marijuana.

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Funding will be distributed in two rounds, and Guelph is to receive just over $141,000 in the first round.

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Councillors also voted in favour of creating a bylaw that mirrors the Smoke Free Ontario Act allowing for the enforcement of tobacco and cannabis consumption.

Staff will be conducting public engagement on the need to further strengthen regulations pertaining to smoking within the city.

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