By: Mike Anderson
While Innisfil, Barrie and Whitchurch-Stouffville approved cannabis retail stores in January 2019, Georgina Town Council voted 4-3 to opt-out of the provincial roll-out, despite a Town sponsored survey which found a majority of respondents wanted pot shops in their community.
In part, that vote was influenced by the Town not meeting a minimum threshold of 50,000 residents – the 2016 census states 45,418 — set out by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO). But that point could have been overlooked, as the census was three years-old. Regardless, it is now moot, as the AGCO has waived that stipulation.
Council’s anti-cannabis bias was also fuelled by a belief that pot shops were too much trouble, and would not provide any substantial benefits, including additional taxation or revenues to the Town.
However, this is not the case. By opting-out, the Town received less than $30,000 from the nearly $40 million Ontario Cannabis Legalization Implementation Fund (OCLIF), set aside to help municipalities shoulder the costs associated with cannabis legalization. In short, it left money on the table.
These funds were part of Ontario’s share of the federal excise tax on recreational cannabis.
The good news is there may be more money coming down the pipe; if the federal-provincial agreement on cannabis excise sharing is updated — a call that is currently being made by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).
According to the AMO, these funds could be used to fund local benefits, like youth and community programs.
Thanks to a last minute request by Regional Councillor Rob Grossi, at the August 19 virtual council meeting, a staff report on how other municipalities have dealt with pot shops will be brought forward to council for review this fall, perhaps opening a door that was firmly closed before.
The Town of Georgina, late to the party, may soon approve cannabis retail stores in Keswick, Sutton and Pefferlaw, creating much needed employment, a share of federal excise taxes and economic spin-offs for business areas ravaged by the pandemic.
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