Clearview opts out of recreational cannabis

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Clearview council has decided to opt out of recreational cannabis retail, at this time.

Most council members around the table were in agreement on Monday night when the issue was discussed at town hall in Stayner. The general consensus was that recreational cannabis would eventually be sold in retail stores across the province, including municipalities like Clearview, but in these early days and with so much uncertainty about how the newly legalized substance would roll out, council and staff agreed that Clearview should opt out at this time and see what happens. 

Before council members discussed the issue, Mayor Doug Measures orchestrated a special public consultation session. He invited the public to attend an open-mic style commenting session, which about seven residents took advantage of. They all expressed misgivings about having recreational cannabis retail stores in Clearview. 

New Lowell resident Chuck Arrand said when he moved to the community with two teenagers he had no idea he was moving to “marijuana central”. He said he tried unsuccessfully to keep his children away from it and isn’t keen to see more of it in the community. 

Former councillor Deborah Bronée also spoke, saying council should heed the advice they heard at the last Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference, which was “go slow.”

“I supported medical cannabis being grown in the municipality,” she said. “I feel differently about recreational cannabis.”

Robert Masters said, “We are a nice town of nice people. A quiet community. Now is not the time to make waves. Let’s stay out of it.”

The fact that municipalities who opt out now can opt in later, but not the other way around, was a factor in forming people’s opinions.

“That’s truly scary,” said Andy Hue. 

Many unknowns about how cannabis retail would be integrated into existing commercial zones, the lack of local input and a short 15-day window for commenting on licence approvals gave residents more reasons to opt out at this time and see how rules and regulations shake out. 

“At first I thought it was hypocritical to opt out,” said Bob Charlton. “But I do support the motion because we don’t know enough about it… If we were able to accept the conditions for which a store were to operate, we could opt in.”

Immediately following the public consultation session, council members weighed in with their thoughts. 

Every one of them voted to opt out, with the exception of Ed Christie.

Doug McKechnie, acknowledging this is council’s first controversial decision of its new term, said he was going back and forth on the issue day-by-day, and sometimes hour-by-hour. 

“It will be coming to Clearview. This is an opportunity for us to try our best to control it,” said McKechnie. “This is a point to step back and learn from mistakes.”

Connie Leishman, councillor for Ward 6, where Peace Naturals is located, said, “I think we should sit down with our growers and maybe they can walk us through this… Hopefully they can help us through this if we do eventually opt in… The rules and regulations are going to change so much. Let’s wait until the dust settles.” 

Thom Paterson raised the issue of health concerns saying the municipality should work closely with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit to better protect residents. 

“The public should understand that we have virtually no control,” said Paterson… “I’m sorry to be, I am suspicious of our provincial government in this regard. I am not in favour now and not ever.”

John Lamers and John Broderick echoed concerns about the timing and the roll out with Lamers saying, “We have a lot of work ahead of us and we have time to look at it.”

“The way this has been rolled out comes across as heavy handed,” said Broderick. “That there is no way to opt out really sticks in my craw. Our hands will be tied far too tightly.”

“We are all saying the same thing here,” said Barry Burton before Christie identified himself as the “odd man out.” 

Christie was the only councillor to vote to opt in, saying cannabis is already available through the online store and he has faith in the system, with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario handing the licensing. 

“It would be our responsibility to opt in,” said Christie, adding that it is legal and businesses will have the right to attempt to get into the market. He said opting out could eventally lead to a legal challenge. 

Measures also spoke in support of opting out before calling for a recorded vote, at McKechnie’s suggestion. 

CAO Steve Sage assured council that township staff would inform the province the next day of their decision to opt out, well within the appointed timeframe and before the Jan. 22 deadline.

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