Ontario is allowing some municipalities to opt out of the province’s
cannabis retail plan, but will it ultimately hurt the communities that
choose to do so?
Plans for the sale of recreational cannabis once
it becomes legal Oct. 17 have been changing since the Ontario
Progressive Conservative government took power in the province. Premier
Doug Ford’s government has stated that it wants to allow private
retailers to operate stores with government licences, but it would allow
for municipalities to opt out of permitting brick-and-mortar stores in
their communities. The final date of the opt-out period has not been
“If a municipality does opt out, its residents will
still find ways to [legally] purchase and consume. I think it’s worth
looking at the economic angle to that and, really, from that
perspective, it doesn’t seem to make sense,” says Toronto-based lawyer
Caryma Sa’d. “Is this based on any sort of evidence or is it a gut
reaction to legalization and maybe unfounded fear?”
On Oct. 17,
the Ontario government will be the only legal seller of recreational
cannabis in the province. The plan is for customers to purchase it
online and have it mailed to them. Eventually, the floor will be opened
to private cannabis retail stores in municipalities that have agreed to
provide government-issued licences. Private retailers in Ontario will be
able to open-shop starting April 1, 2019.
Matt Maurer, partner and vice chairman of the cannabis law group at Torkin Manes LLP in
Toronto, says he has “struggled to see a lot of pros” with the idea of
opting out. He says that while he sees the benefit of the opt-out option
for historic districts trying to preserve heritage locations, the
decision for communities that have announced their intent to opt out,
such as Oakville, Markham and Richmond Hill, seems like “a knee-jerk”
In fact, Sa’d says, opting out would result in fewer
job opportunities and less customer traffic for that particular
“I see it as more detrimental,” she says.
the opt-out period is over, communities won’t be able to opt out of the
cannabis retail plan. Maurer says it is likely that municipalities that
have opted out will be able to opt in in the future, but nothing is
confirmed, especially since the provincial Cannabis Act passed under the
former Liberal government will be amended by the Ford government before
the Oct. 17. legalization date.
While municipalities have the
power to opt out of operating private brick-and-mortar retail stores
within their communities, by law, they won’t be able to ban the
consumption of cannabis within the confines of people’s homes due to the
federal Cannabis Act, Bill C-45.
Maurer says that for medical
marijuana, not much will change once the retail plan for recreational
marijuana and its opt-out option roll out. People who require medical
marijuana, who possess the required medical documentation, will still be
able to access it by purchasing directly from a licensed producer and
having it mailed directly to them via Canada Post courier.
how will the government and each municipality enforce when and where
cannabis retail stores can and can’t operate? The short answer: It’s
unknown at this point.
“[Cannabis laws are in] a huge state of
flux,” says Sa’d. “There are almost daily changes and updates, and I
think it will be some time before this area of law is settled.”
than offering the opt-out window, Maurer suggests controlling cannabis
retail with zoning and municipal bylaws to restrict where stores can
operate because it provides flexibility.
“Why opt out entirely?” he says.
Editor's note: Story updated Sept. 27, 2018 to reflect new information about private cannabis retailers.