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Belleville council okays pot shops; McCaw is only councillor to say no

City council headed by Mayor Mitch Panciuk (centre) made the decision to opt into the provincial program for cannabis sale in the city. Photo by Tahreem Fatima, QNet News

By Tahreem Fatima [1]

BELLEVILLE – Belleville city council has voted to allow a retail marijuana [2] shop in the city.

In an 8-1 vote Monday, with only Coun. Kelly McCaw opposed, council members decided to opt into the cannabis retail program. That means the city can now be in line for one of the five retail outlets that the provincial government will allow to open in Eastern Ontario.

In voting against the motion, McCaw said she didn’t think a survey [3] the city did on its website about whether to allow a retail pot shop had reached older residents, and thus they weren’t being heard from.

“I’m not satisfied that our statistics reach certain age groups, mainly those over 65. A lot of these people, (ages) 75, 80 – they don’t have the internet. I’m just not comfortable we’ve had enough consultation with every demographic,” McCaw told her fellow councillors.

She also said she has concerns about the funding the provincial government is going to give to the municipalities who receive approval for a cannabis shop.

“It’s a drop in the bucket to what we’re going to need from law enforcement, increased paramedic assistance, even mental-health issues,” she said. “Our federal government has mandated the legalization of cannabis, but it certainly hasn’t mandated every municipality.”

Mayor Mitch Panciuk voted yes.

“I’m concerned about putting ourselves and our business community at a disadvantage if we were to decide to opt out,” he said.

“We have 53 dispensaries just to the east of us,” he said, referring to the cannabis shops in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory [4]. “We have the consequences and issues that come with that product being available, but then we don’t have the funding that opting in allows us to have. So I think this is a safe, regulated supply of cannabis compared to the illegal underground economy.”

Coun. Chris Malette said it is common sense to opt in.

“The province is going to support us with financial support if we do this at this time,” Malette said.

Even if Belleville is awarded a pot shop, it’s not going to be up and running that quickly, he said, adding that that there will be enough time to prepare and implement community-standards bylaws.

Referring to the lottery [5] by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, on behalf of the government, to determine who may apply for retail operator licences, Malette noted that no local retailers were chosen when the lottery took place last Friday.

Coun. Ryan  Williams said opting in is a chance for the city to fill vacant storefronts with entrepreneur-led legal retail operations.

“It’s an opportunity to grow,” he said, citing he recent announcement that Quebec-based cannabis producer HEXO [6] is going to set up what it calls a centre of excellence for developing and manufacturing cannabis products at the former Sears warehouse in the east end of the city. Williams also noted that Loyalist College has been named as a cannabis research facility [7].

An official retail operation will also limit potentially hazardous Fentanyl-laced drugs getting into the market, he said.

Coun. Pat Culhane said she was voting yes because “not a single person has asked me not to.”

Coun. Sean Kelly cited his two teenage children, saying he feels opting in is the right thing to do. “I would prefer people buy from Health Canada than buy illegally,”  he said.

“I would just urge parents to remind their children that cannabis has its place, it has its dangers, and they need to be careful.”

Municipalities have until next Tuesday to let the province know if they are willing to host retail outlets.