Collingwood and cannabis stores

Buffer zones

Credit where credit is due: Collingwood council this week voted unanimously to allow a cannabis store to open here. That came as somewhat of a surprise given earlier negative comments from come councillors, but in the end they all agreed to it. It made sense to say yes, given that pot is now legal in Canada. Saying no would have made the community seem both out-of-touch and fusty, and would have reinforced the resolutely-closed-for-business reputation that last council gave our town.

But the staff report also shows that there is still a deep prohibition-era thinking in town hall. Take a look at the map, above, showing in blue the 200-metre buffer staff thinks need to created to prevent stores from opening nearby. Like parks, for example. Although there is no logical reason to ban sales near parks, the proposed 200 meter buffer basically rules out all of the commercial space and strip malls along First Street.

And who decided 200 metres is appropriate for anything? Would anything change if it was reduced to 100? or 50? How about 1.5m, the width of most sidewalks? Is there some scientific research that says a community is safer, more morally upright if cannabis stores are 200 metres from, say, an arboretum, bench or labyrinth? I half-expected staff to show council a clip from the 1936 film Reefer Madness as the reference to back up their recommendations.*

Within those very buffer zones, the town already has retaillers selling alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs. You can get drunk in a dozen restaurants and bars along First Street, but staff think someone selling pot nearby is a threat? Do staff really believe that selling legal pot will corrupt park visitors in ways that, say, legal opioids or cheap whisky don’t? Or that strollers walking their dog along a trail will suddenly be overcome and engage in crimes of moral turpitude when they inadvertently come within 200 metres of a cannabis store? I say we got trouble my friends, right here in River City… **

And as for tobacco – it’s the most insidious, nasty product you can buy legally: addictive, cancer-causing, and dirty. Our parks, streets and beaches are already heavily littered with toxic cigarette butts. Butts are the ocean’s “single largest source of trash” according to data collected by NGO Ocean Conservancy. Smokers are universally dirty – I’ve never met one in all my years who didn’t litter. Just take a look at the sidewalk in front of the coffee shops downtown, or the deep reefs of discarded butts beside Wal-Mart or other box stores where staff go to smoke. Do town staff (who do nothing about the toxic butt problem let alone smoking on public property) really think a single pot store is worse than all those smokers and the outlets where they can buy their drugs?

Personally, I would prefer to see a store downtown because it would be good for the downtown economy. But I don’t think it should be the only viable area offered for a retail outlet: location should be the retailler’s choice based on their business model and own studies (and concerns like parking). Arbitrarily limiting its location might be a fine way to do things in the old Soviet planning system, but those of us who still believe in free enterprise have always found that system rather stifling.

Cannabis should be treated the same way as alcohol and other drugs. We already have zoning in place to limit where retail or commercial operations can take place. Why create artificial buffer zones when we already have all the necessary planning rules? All that will do is add another unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to the process in a town already labelled closed for business.

But maybe that’s the goal.
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Collingwood’s pot problem

Two months from now, Canada’s federal government will make marijuana legal. Laws will allow it to be sold in private stores, smoked, eaten and even grown in your home. There will be retail stores and online sales. And the next council will have to deal with it.

But before then, our council should have discussed it and given the public some inkling as to what is planned here. Should have held public debate about where it could be sold – offered some suggestions for changes to our planning bylaws and Official Plan. Should have brought in someone from the police to publicly explain what policies about public safety will be in place for enforcement and control. Yet not even a staff report has been made public.

With only a few months to go before legalization, Collingwood has done nothing to prepare itself for what promises to be a significant change and challenge. That’s irresponsible.

The Ontario government will make more details known about its plans this week at the AMO conference in Ottawa – but as Bloomberg noted in a recent story, better-prepared municipalities have already made plans to deal with legalization:

Richmond Hill Mayor David Barrow told BNN Bloomberg in an interview Wednesday his municipality will choose to opt-out of permitting cannabis retail sales.

Did you even know Collingwood could opt out? If not, it’s because our council has been silent on the whole issue of marijuana sales. Is it better for Collingwood to allow sales or opt out? What rules should there be for the location of stores if we stay in? We haven’t heard anything and certainly haven’t had any public meetings where residents could be consulted about how they think it should be done here.

Well, okay, you weren’t consulted over the privatization of our electricity utility, the attempted privatization of our water utility, the privatization of our airport, or the decision by Brian Saunderson and his cabal to block the hospital’s much-needed redevelopment, so there’s little reason to think they would hold a public meeting now. I would expect if they do anything at all, it will be another autocratic dictate decided behind closed doors without any public engagement as they always do with major issues.

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