Retail reefer madness
|By Joseph Quigley - Staff writer | Dec. 22, 2018|
Fear is so often the bane of progress.
That can be true whether it be fear of the unknown, fear of costs or fear of a heavily-stigmatized substance like cannabis.
Fortunately, to their credit, the County of Haliburton and its townships did not let fear guide their hands when it came to cannabis, each of them opting-in to allowing retail stores.
The benefits of allowing the stores were repeated at council tables over the past few weeks. Additional funding from the province to deal with cannabis. The economic development new cannabis stores could provide. Working against the black market.
With our municipalities needing all of the dollars they can get, pushing aside the fiscal benefits of retail cannabis stores would have been foolhardy.
There has been justified concern on the issue that friction could emerge due to people smoking cannabis in public. But having more provincial funding to address that can only stand to help.
Despite reports urging the contrary, much of the council opposition to retail cannabis came down to stigma and personal gripes around the substance. Highlands East Coun. Cam McKenzie cited his opposition to legalization and constituent pleas. Dysart Coun. Walt McKechnie cited fear of the harm cannabis could do to youth.
Even after staff explained how municipalities could not zone to restrict the placement of cannabis stores within
retail sectors, Dysart Coun. John Smith spoke to concern about pot shops popping up on main street Haliburton or out of an old church site now zoned retail in West Guilford. He later clarified he wanted people in those places to get a chance to weigh in. Which would, probably, invite people to gripe about their personal distaste for cannabis.
But as has been repeated, legalization of cannabis was not up for debate in this retail discussion. It is legal now and no municipality can change that. Adults 19 and older can purchase it and smoke it in Haliburton today, including in some public spaces. That is the reality, regardless of any retail stores. It is something we will have to deal with more as online ordering improves and the summer season arrives.
Health concerns have also been brought up. Smith also cited a letter sent to Dysart council from doctors at the Haliburton Highlands Family Health Team urging council to opt out, in an “argument against the active promotion of a potentially harmful substance.” The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit said municipal councils should consider research on how the physical availability of substances, such as alcohol and tobacco, increases related harms.
But every municipality allows the regulated retail sale of substances like alcohol and tobacco, even if our society would be better off health wise without them. We long ago came to understand prohibition does not work on alcohol, much as it did not work to totally stop people, including youth, from getting their hands on cannabis when it was illegal (one Statistics Canada study found one quarter of Canadians had tried cannabis by the age of 18). Calling for no retail sale of cannabis, if you do not do the same for alcohol and tobacco despite comparable or worse health impacts, comes off as unfair.
There is room for criticism of Ontario’s regulations on cannabis and the needed focus on this opt-in, opt-out exercise has arguably slowed work that could have been done to advocate for adjustments to those regulations. There will be growing pains to legalized cannabis and its regulations. But a recent Abacus Data poll found 70 per cent of Canadians can, at minimum, accept legal cannabis. Approval of cannabis will likely only rise with time legalized.
The writing is on the wall. In the coming years, even in municipalities opting out today, retail cannabis stores will be present where it makes business sense. Like with other substances, addressing associated harms should come with education and appropriate regulation.
Legal cannabis is here and fearful foot-dragging is pointless. Good on our municipalities for not falling for that temptation.