Hamilton opts-in to legal pot shops, after divided council deadlocks on opting out

Hamilton politicians are to decide Monday afternoon if the city will "opt in" to licensed cannabis stores.
Hamilton politicians are to decide Monday afternoon if the city will "opt in" to licensed cannabis stores. Don Mitchell / Global News

The debate over whether to welcome legal cannabis stores in Hamilton has ended in a strange fashion.

City Council symbolically voted 10-6 to “opt in” late Monday afternoon, but that had already been decided when Ward 4 Coun. Sam Merulla’s motion to “opt out” was defeated in an 8-8 stalemate.

READ MORE: Hamilton politicians defer question of legal pot shops after passionate 8-hour debate

The divided council’s decision means Hamilton will be on the map when Ontario’s first 25 private, licensed retail cannabis stores open in April.

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger believes the city ultimately ended up in the right place, and “will be part of an industry that is growing and is going to happen either legally or illegally.”

Eisenberger adds that he much prefers “to be on the legal side of the issue.”

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READ MORE: Hamilton police continue crackdown on illegal cannabis dispensaries

Merulla has complained that the provincial and federal governments are not sharing enough tax revenue to offset municipal licencing and enforcement costs.

His motion suggested opting out and working with other like-minded municipalities to pressure the upper levels of government to renegotiate, however Stoney Creek’s Brad Clark insists that “standing on the outside with our arms crossed” would have no impact.

Clark says opting in allows the city to say that “we want to be a part of this process, but we want to actually move the yardsticks forward on a number of issues that we believe remain unresolved.”

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One of those issues is a lack of municipal control over the location of cannabis stores, including dissatisfaction with provincial rules that require only a 150 metre separation from schools.

Glanbrook Coun. Brenda Johnson was another who had hoped to opt out saying “this is the one time I really don’t want to be the ambitious city.”

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