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Brampton councillors clash over upcoming vote on hosting marijuana shops

Last Updated Jan 18, 2019 at 11:19 pm EDT

Toronto could become one of only a few Greater Toronto Area (GTA) cities where cannabis stores will be allowed to set up shop.

So far only Burlington, Toronto, Whitchurch-Stoufville, Ajax, Brock Township, Oshawa, and Clarington have opted in to allowing retail cannabis sales within their borders.

Cities have until January 22nd to opt out retail stores.

Brampton, Halton Hills, Vaughan, Aurora and Whitby are expected to make a decision on Monday night at special council sessions across the region.

Brampton, the largest city still on the fence, is still very divided. Although residents have been able to purchase cannabis products through the Ontario Cannabis Store online since October 17th, some councillors don’t think buying marijuana should be as easy as walking into a store.

“I am going to opt out,” says Brampton Ward 7 and 8 councilor Charmaine Williams. “I’m encouraging all of my colleagues on Monday to add Brampton to that long list of municipalities that have opted out.”

Milton, Oakville, Mississauga, Caledon, King Township, Richmond HIll, Markham, Newmarket, East Gwillimbury, Georgina and Pickering have all voted against allowing the stores.

Williams has built a wall of bricks in her office, symbolizing the blocking of cannabis shops from setting up in the GTA.

“17,000 businesses and individuals applied for a licence to open up shops in our community. We need a political wall, a wall for all the municipalities in the GTA to stop the invasion of pot shops coming into our cities,” she said.

Initially, only 25 stores will be allowed to open in Ontario — five in Toronto and six in the Greater Toronto Area.

However, the provincial government has repeatedly said that the limit will be lifted once sufficient supply of marijuana can be assured.

It’s not known if there will be an eventual cap on stores or more regulations surrounding their locations. As it stands, cannabis stores must be 150 metres from schools, but municipalities have no say about their precise location.

But Regional Councillor, Roweena Santos, says Williams is practicing divisive politics with her tactics.

“We should be talking about the issues and not the wall,” Santos says. Santos wouldn’t say how she plans on voting on Monday, stressing that she’s still listening to comments and concerns from her constituents.

“On Monday last week we had a Town Hall meeting and there were some residents who had very strong opinions about wanting us to opt out. But after (listening to) information that was presented by our staff, and the experts and the very robust debate that evening, some of those people changed their mind and wanted us to opt in,” Santos says.

“There is something to be said about stigma and fear and educating the public in an open dialogue way.”

Williams’ regional counterpart, Pat Fortini, says he thinks the city should opt in, but is waiting for a final report and constituent survey results.

“I think it’s a good thing to opt in, but if the survey is way high — like 90 per cent say they don’t want it, then we have to do what the residents say because we represent the residents.”

Regional Councillor, Martin Medeiros, points out that even after public education and consultations, there are still misconceptions about what council is actually opting in or out of.

“The issue is not if we agree with legalization or not, it’s here. It’s legalized,” he explains.

“We’d be lying to ourselves and have our heads in the sand if we thought that marijuana is not here today. People can get it at their doors.”

Medeiros plans on voting in favor of opting in, enabling the city to access more funds from the province for enforcement.

“We estimate about a million dollars for the City of Brampton and about a million dollars for the Region of Peel. That money would be used for our security, corporate security, so monitoring our recreation centres and any municipal facility and the second would be for enforcement for impairment. Our police force needs those funds.”

“I’m not here debating the use of cannabis, it’s legal already.”

If Brampton, Halton Hills, Vaughan, Aurora and Whitby don’t formally opt out by the 22nd, they will be considered to have opted in.