by Chris Pickup

Haldimand council in committee attempted to tackle the cannabis issue Tuesday. Discussion comprised two different aspects of the new legislation … the provincially legislated private retail stores, and the federally legislated production facilities.

CANNABIS PRODUCTION

This really got the county’s knickers in a knot. 

“The Feds have screwed up,” Tony Dalimonte fumed. Indiana Road is a quiet road where people have invested thousands of dollars in their homes. Their lives are changed with a cannabis grow op emitting odours 24/7, he said.

Things are regulated on housing, etc., he said,  “but something as major and significant as this issue, there are no regulations to follow. There should be something clear to follow and the Indiana situation would not have happened.”

The MOE would get involved if it was industrial fumes from Nanticoke, he added.

Dalimonte would like to see an amendment as restrictive as possible.

“Did we drop the ball last term?” Shirton asked.

“It’s more than we anticipated,” Manley acknowledged. “Growing and processing an organic material such as cannabis, is it any different from normal farm practices such as manure, barns, etc.?

“We have a set of rules for everyone regarding agriculture. We’re regulating cannabis the same as any other agricultural use.”

“We had no experience at all with it … odour 24/7,” CAO Don Boyle admitted. He felt the county could work with grow ops that had happened already to mitigate issues.

One major problem is that properties that have had a greenhouse on their agricultural property for years, growing flowers or vegetables, can be bought by a new owner who brings in cannabis. 

Shirton noted a greenhouse 100 metres off Marshagen Road is now growing cannabis.

“It’s been dropped on us, so many components,” ward 2 councillor John Metcalfe noted. “The odour is very bad. How do we differentiate odours? We need to put as many restrictive parameters on these operations as we can.”

Rob Shirton told council residents have indicated Pelham has gone ahead with a bylaw to hold everything for a year, but Manley noted it was an interim control bylaw, a “hit pause and deal with it” type of process. 

“Those tend to get appealed if someone is going through the process and gets their approvals yanked at the end,” he said. “It’s an invitation to litigation. It’s better to make changes openly.”

He noted the county cannot retroactively apply new standards. When things are regulated by higher levels of government, the municipality cannot supersede them.

Residents need to be educated on the issue, everyone agreed. To read the county report, go to the county website and download report PD-40-2018 and its two attachments.

RETAIL STORES

Council and staff alike were frustrated by the perceived lack of detailed guidance from the provincial government ahead of the private retail opt-in/opt-out deadline looming on Jan. 22, asking how they were expected to make a decision when the province has so many unanswered questions. 

Presently, recreational cannabis is only legally available online from the provincial government. The first retail store will likely be operational on or after April 1, 2019.

What did become clear is that the municipality would have virtually no control over retail stores with regard to location and land use regulation, and severely restricted bylaws, should they decide to opt in. 

There is a provincial setback requirement of 150 metres from both public and private schools, but no regulations pertaining to other youth gathering spaces.

A county staff report notes the stores would be licensed by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), similar to Liquor stores. 

There is only a 15 day notification period required for the AGCO to inform a municipality of a new retail store licensed within its borders, and no-one has any idea about how many applications there might be.

The AGCO is required to consider comments from a municipality but, as with liquor stores, there is no guarantee they will be acted upon.

A carrot has been extended to municipalities opting in. If Ontario’s portion of the federal excise duty on recreational cannabis over the first two years of legalization exceeds $100 million, the province will provide 50% of the surplus to municipalities.

There is a choice for municipalities to opt out now and opt in later, but there is no surety the extra money would be available at that point. And once opted in, it is permanent – there is no going back.

The report notes there are economic benefits to opting in such as job opportunities, spin-offs to other businesses and possible reduction of vacant rental units which totalled 9% in 2017.

And while opting out means absolutely no retail licences within Haldimand would be granted, there would still be plenty of opportunity for residents to nip down the road to sellers in other places, where illicit sales could mean cannabis laced with fentanyl and other nasty stuff.

The county’s Health and Social Services have weighed in on the subject. They note greater access and extended hours of sale (between 9 am and 11 pm) can contribute to an increase in substance abuse. There will be no caps on the number of cannabis retail storefronts,  leaving it to market demand to decide locations and the number of stores. 

However they were also concerned about illicit dealers and costs of substance abuse.

The county solicited input from the OPP but had received nothing as of  Tuesday.

In discussion around the council table, Metcalfe asked whether any thought had been given as to where cannabis can be consumed. Craig Manley noted the rules would be essentially the same as those followed for tobacco. 

Hewitt added the present smoking bylaw relies on separation of no smoking and smoking areas. He suggested the county could enact a new bylaw with a complete ban in public spaces.

Manley suggested a public meeting at the January 21 council on the retail store component of the new legislation to get residents’ input before the following day’s provincial deadline. 

However ward 1 councillor Stewart Patterson called for “more due diligence for public input before Jan 21”, such as town hall meetings. “It’s a big, big issue,” he said. “It’s a mistake to wait for input.”

Councillors Shirton and Corbett agreed, wanting to host an open house for their wards before that. Check the county site and social media for any scheduled meetings.

Meanwhile, the county is soliciting written input from residents who wish to weigh in on the matter.