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Minto council hears from both sides on cannabis issue

Cannabis decision looms - Minto town council received input from citizens at a Jan. 8 public meeting on the upcoming decision on allowing cannabis sales within the municipality. From left: councillors Mark MacKenzie and Geoff Gunson, deputy mayor Dave Turton, Mayor George Bridge, treasurer/acting clerk Gordon Duff and councillors Ron Elliott, Judy Dirksen and Jean Anderson.  Photo by Patrick Raftis

Minto council hears from both sides on cannabis issue

by Patrick Raftis

HARRISTON - Minto council heard arguments both for and against allowing retail cannabis outlets in the municipality at a public meeting here on Jan. 8.

Ontario municipalities have until Jan. 22 to opt out of consideration for marijuana sales outlets under provincial legislation.

All municipalities must make the determination or be considered opted-in, even though the province has announced none of the initial 25 private licenses to be issued in the spring will go to communities with populations below 50,000.

A decision to opt in cannot be reversed, while a decision to opt out may be reversed in the future.

Minto council has indicated it will make its decision at the Jan. 22 council meeting.

A survey of Minto citizens was conducted though the town’s EngageMinto online platform, with 67 per cent of the 203 respondents voting in favor of retail cannabis sales in the municipality.

However two local residents who spoke at the meeting, attended by about 60 people, indicated they are gathering signatures on a petition asking council to opt out.

Clifford resident Peter Burhow said he went online and voted, but noted “there are a lot of people that can’t come out to a public meeting so we have stared a petition and we will get that to you as soon as we can.”

Don Senek, also from Clifford, said he began the petition the day prior to the meeting.

“I started yesterday and I got 42 names of people that said ‘No, we don’t want this.’ And I’ll get more if I need to,” Senek stated.

Among the scheduled presenters at the meeting, which also included an open mic session (all speakers were limited to five minute presentations), was Dr. Matthew Tanenbaum of Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health.

“At public health we recommend for the time being you opt out and evaluate how things look for other municipalities that opt in before you do so yourself,” Tanenbaum stated.

Burhow said, “Health professionals and government on both levels have been trying to get people to stop smoking for 50 years, and here we are now trying to get people to smoke cannabis to add to the problems we are already facing with cancer and other ailments from this use.”

Burhow added the province’s decision to place a population limit on the first round of license locations “is a good opportunity” to opt out.

“This will give the small municipalities the opportunity to see what problems these cities encounter and how they go about solving the additional costs involved in policing and bylaw enforcement,” he said.

Senek said the 50,000 population limit has created a lack of urgency among Minto officials about the issue.

“We’re here to ask you to go on record that we don’t want pot shops here in Minto in the future, whenever it is,” he stated.

Senek said legalization hasn’t taken the criminal element out of cannabis sales so far.

“The black market is booming it hasn’t gone away because marijuana users are deterred by the higher dispensary prices once the government gets involved with the taxes and everything,” he said, adding users are “loyal to their local dealers and they’re open all 24 hours a day.”

Senek said he believes cannabis sales would run counter to the town’s economic development efforts.

“I think the Town of Minto has done a wonderful job of promoting itself. One of the slogans that Minto has is ‘Where your family belongs’ … and I can just see a brochure going out now … we’re going to tell people about our parks, our wonderful recreational facilities, our churches, our schools, our shopping and everything else and, oh yeah, by the way, we have marijuana pot shops now, for your convenience, where your family belongs.”

Centre Wellington resident Silvana Sangiuliano echoed some of Senek’s concerns.

“A great deal of time and money is being spent on economic development, beautification and revitalization of our communities only to be undone by loitering and crime which will further escalate while marijuana stores are open until 11pm, while other businesses continue to be closed,” said Sangiuliano, who noted she has collected a petition signed by over 500 Wellington County residents opposing local cannabis sales.

“No consideration has been given to the most at-risk underage demographic, the 11- to 18-year-olds who will continue to be heavily targeted by the black market,” Sangiuliano stated.

Pastor John Finochio of Crossroads Life Church in Harriston added, “We see a lot of young kids whose lives are impacted who are not old enough to buy alcohol or drugs but are being impacted by use all the time.

“Those drugs come from somewhere and that alcohol is coming from somewhere. We know that the alcohol is coming from stores that are approved to sell it so either they’re stealing it or they’re being provided by people who are old enough to buy it.”

Finochio said he was involved in regular use of drugs and sale of drugs to people his own age as a young man and eventually ended up in trouble with the law.

“The majority of those kids that did drugs with me, there’s very, very few of them that are in good shape today,” he warned.

Jim Potts of Minto Safe Communities pointed out Safe Communities Wellington County runs contests in all four county high schools to combat distracted and impaired driving.

“We don’t want the same problem now with cannabis,” said Potts.

“We’ve got a chance to opt out, stay out. Help us. We’re all volunteers trying to keep the community safe. Now the council can help work with us and opt out of it.”

Minto resident Sherry Cowen suggested some concerns are based on lack of information and more public education is needed.

“Opioids, that’s a crisis. Pot smoking? Not a crisis,” she stated. “Hemp is grown naturally, it’s always been here. It’s not going away. This issue is not going away. Educating our people, all our people, not just our little people, is imperative.”

Ross Wilkie of Harriston declared, “I’ve never had marijuana, never taken marijuana.

“But now that it’s legal, we have a serious problem in town - our taxes don’t support the infrastructure we need. There will be money available if we opt in.”

Wilkie pointed out one of the speakers against allowing cannabis sales is from Centre Wellington, which has opted out.

“If you remember a number of years ago Centre Wellington spent tens of thousands of dollars fighting a casino,” said Wilkie.

“Now that they see the money that they’ve received from that casino they’re all in favour of it. So if we can get some provincial money to subsidize what we need in this community why not take it?”

Karen Green of Minto said, “When we talk about the risk factors associated with smoking marijuana, I ask you to consider the risk factors associated with drinking alcohol.

“We don’t have any impetus to shut down our liquor stores or our beer stores and certainly the cost to the health care system, the community, our social structures is as heavily impacted by alcohol as it ever has been by using cannabis.”

Green added, “I agree that there are concerns with legalization” but, “I personally support it because I do believe the three objectives that were laid out by the federal government are important objectives. To keep it out of the hands of our children, to provide safe product to people that wish to use it and to hopefully get rid of the black market that has no qualms about selling it to our children.”

Ron Faulkner, a retired OPP Inspector and past Minto deputy mayor who was chief of police in the former Town of Harriston before amalgamation, spoke in support of allowing cannabis sales.

“I had a sister who passed away and the last year of her life was quality life because of processed marijuana, hash oil. That’s the only thing that allowed her to eat, the only thing that allowed her peace of mind on her last days.”

Faulkner, who conceded he had mixed feels on legalization, added, “I’ve arrested many people for the possession or trafficking of marijuana. One of the things I’ve studied and researched is the percentage of users tends not to change whether it’s legal or illegal.”

He added, “The Town of Minto has ... though our economic development, though our good decisions in the past … set the bar high for other municipalities and we did that because we shaped our town. We didn’t let somebody else shape it for us and if you have an opportunity to shape your town then I would encourage you to look closely at opting in.”

Faulkner noted concerns about public use of marijuana are unrelated to sales outlet locations.

“Regardless of where the store is, the person that’s going to do the drugs is going to be in the park or be in the community,” he said.

“It’s not relevant where he buys the product. So I encourage you to continue to have Minto as the leader. I believe Centre Wellington has opted out, I believe Mapleton has opted out. Now 50,000 population we do not have, but that’s just the first round. My position is shape your future, don’t let somebody else do it for you.”

Mayor George Bridge invited residents to provide written submissions to the town prior to the Jan. 22 meeting, when council will make a decision.

“This has been a very fluid subject,” said Bridge. “Even when we were doing our last report, the 50,000 population thing came in that night of the report. It’s constantly changing.

“So were going to look at all that information, gather it up and make our decision.”

 

January 11, 2019

 
 

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