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Town of Essex hosts cannabis retail open house

by Kyle Reid

The Town of Essex is looking for input from residents about what they would like to see in a cannabis retail policy. The Town hosted an open house on Tuesday, March 5 at the Harrow Community Centre to gather information from anyone looking to have a say about future cannabis retail sales in the Town.

In January, Town Council voted in favour of opting in to allow cannabis retail sales in Essex. The vote of approval was largely the result of a public survey which overwhelmingly favoured allowing cannabis shops. With the Town in favour of opting in, the purpose of Tuesday evening’s meeting was to engage residents in a discussion about where they would, or would not, like to see cannabis stores within the municipality.

Only a handful of residents, however, turned out at the open house meeting on Tuesday to have their input on a retail policy. One resident, former Town Councillor Bill Baker, attended the meeting, noting that he is in favour of allowing retail shops, and was pleased that the Town is engaging its residents in the adoption of a retail policy.

“All in all, I think that it’s good [the Town] is doing this ahead of the curve,” Baker said. “With the acceleration of this sector…there may be a new round of retail [licences] coming up sooner than we think.”

While Essex has voted in favour of allowing brick and mortar cannabis shops in the Town, as of right now, any proponents looking to set up shop to sell cannabis in Essex will have to wait until the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) issues new licences. Right now, the AGCO is only issuing 25 licences province-wide, and only to municipalities with populations above 50,000. There is no timetable for when Essex may see its first cannabis retail shop, if at all.

But the Town is trying to stay ahead of the game by adopting a policy in anticipation of future applications for cannabis stores, Rita Jabbour said, who is the Town Planner. Currently, the Town is adopting a policy which would restrict the sale of cannabis within 150 metres of schools, as per provincial legislation. However, Jabbour said Town Council and administration are hoping to engage residents to find out what other regulations residents may be interested in imposing on where cannabis could be sold in town.

“We do have the opportunity to develop this policy driven by public feedback,” Jabbour said. “It’s one that will consider other locations [than schools], such as libraries, or youth drop-in centres.”

For his part, Baker said he would like to see cannabis restricted from sale around public spaces. He would also like to see the Town further explore regulations about where people can smoke cannabis in town, if it is at all possible. Currently, provincial legislation restricts the smoking of cannabis anywhere where cigarette smoking is not permitted. With the current municipal bylaws, the Town could potentially further restrict all smoking in public spaces as well.

“I may not be able to buy in that area, but I can smoke in that area,” Baker said. “I’m not sure, looking at this from the lens of retail, how the retail affects those parameters.”

Jabbour added that many people believe that cannabis sales should be restricted not just to the 150-metre school area buffer zone, but also around daycares and other areas that children frequent in town. She’s hoping that Tuesday’s open house, and another held on Tuesday, March 12 in Essex Centre, can educate residents about current laws and regulations surrounding the sale of cannabis.

“A lot of people are learning about the process since, October 17,” Jabbour said. “[The open house] is just an opportunity for people to learn a little bit more.”

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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