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Scarborough councillor says wards should be able to opt-out of having cannabis shops

Councillor Jim Karygiannis plans to introduce a motion on Thursday to allow wards within the City of Toronto to opt out of allowing cannabis retailers and medical marijuana dispensaries to open up shop.

“Cities can opt out so wards should be given the same opportunity,” said Karygiannis (Ward 22, Scarborough-Agincourt), in advance of Thursday’s council meeting. There are 25 wards in the city.

Municipalities have until Jan. 22 to opt out of accepting private pot shops, which will be licensed and regulated by the province and will be permitted to operate in Ontario starting April 1.

Mayor John Tory does not support opting out, but he said on Monday he will be asking council to support a push for more powers for municipalities to control the locations of private cannabis retail stores.

Karygiannis said he would like to take it further because his constituents have told him they don’t want any pot shops at all.

“In my ward during the campaign I heard loud and clear, that they don’t want it. There are areas in the city that want to be dry. You had areas in the city that were dry from booze, the Junction I believe, so we should leave the opportunity to each ward, to its councillor, to opt out,” Karygiannis told the Star in an interview.

“If they want to be in, fine. My schools and my community clearly said to me that they don’t want it.”

Councillor Gord Perks (Ward 4, Parkdale High—Park) said he would not support the Karygiannis motion. Perks said he is not opposed to pot shops, but he is interested in seeing the city have some control over them.

“I think that we should retain the right to have local zoning control, as we did in Parkdale when we brought in the cap on the concentration of bars, back in June of 2017,” said Perks.

“I’m not interested in the game of feeding into a local moral panic. For me it’s about a good regulatory framework.”

A report from city staff has recommended that Toronto not opt out because provincially licensed and regulated stores would sell products sourced from federally inspected, licensed producers and adhere to federal health and safety standards.

“This is an important step towards achieving the objectives of protecting youth and combating the illegal market,” according to the report.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General said there is no provision in the legislation that would allow wards to opt out.

“The Cannabis Licence Act, 2018 (the “Act”) gives municipal councils the ability to opt-out of having cannabis retail stores in their community by Jan. 22, 2019. There is no provision in the Act that would allow for individual wards or communities within a municipality to opt out if the municipality as a whole has not made that decision.

“During the licensing process, municipalities and local residents will have the opportunity to share their views on a proposed store location. The AGCO (Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario) will consider the public interest, including the needs and wishes of the residents of the municipality when issuing retail store authorizations.”