Retail pot stores could still come to Lakeshore after public forum in November

The Town of Lakeshore will hold a community open house this fall to discuss allowing cannabis retail stores, almost one year after councillors voted against physical retail spaces in the municipality.

The public forum is scheduled for Nov. 4. In the meantime, residents can also voice their opinions on bringing brick-and-mortar pot retailers to Lakeshore by participating in an online poll

So far, 39 people have cast votes, with 67 per cent of respondents saying they're in favour of the sale of recreational cannabis in the community. 

Councillors previously voted to opt out of physical cannabis retail stores during a Dec. 11, 2018 council meeting, even though there were no consultations beforehand.

Lakeshore chief administrative officer Truper McBride explained that was a result of changes to Ontario's planned cannabis roll-out brought in by Premier Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government. 

Prior to the defeat of former premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberal party in the 2018 election, Ontario was set to see physical locations branded by the Ontario Cannabis Store, with private operators barred from establishing retail outlets.

Sanjay Maru/CBC

The Ford government revised the retail rollout plan, giving municipalities until Jan. 22, 2019 to vote on whether to allow or deny physical cannabis retailers from operating in communities. 

In the event that they chose to opt out, the provincial government gave municipalities the choice to opt in at a later date.

McBride said administration will likely receive a report by the end of the year "with recommendations not to opt back in or remain out."

Administrators weigh in

Lakeshore Ward 1 Coun. Steven Wilder — one of two councillors to vote in favour of physical retail outlets — said the motion to move forward with public consultations was proposed "almost immediately after the motion to opt out was passed."

According to Wilder, the majority of residents with whom he has discussed retail outlets are in favour. 

McBride explained that the delay between the passage of the consultation motion and actual consultations is the result of a decision made by council to observe how cannabis brick-and-mortar stores affect communities before moving forward.

"The direction from council was clear, and that was to only proceed after we had an opportunity to review lessons learned," he said, adding that a report tabled at Lakeshore's June 18 council meeting "outlined a process that we'd be following for engagement."

Dale Molnar/CBC

Lakeshore Ward 5 Coun. Kirk Walstedt — who previously voted against physical cannabis retail stores — said he remains opposed due to concerns about cuts to municipal funding provided by the provincial government, among other factors.

"It just seems like they seem to be downloading more on the municipalities and that has to stop," he said.

Walstedt added the majority of Lakeshore residents who have spoken with him about cannabis retail stores said they were opposed. 

Kirk Walstedt

Nonetheless, Walstedt said he's waiting for the results of the public consultation to inform his decision.

Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain — who also voted against physical cannabis retail stores last December — said he'll be watching the way Windsor moves forward with its retail pot store, adding that will be a big factor in the direction Lakeshore council will take. 

"We'll be certainly putting that under the microscope and that will inform, I believe, how a lot of council members vote on the success or failure of it," he said. 

Bain added that he's seen a mix of interest and skepticism from residents.

Opinions across Windsor-Essex

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario's (AGCO) announced the results of its second cannabis retail licence lottery on Tuesday, allowing 42 applicants to formally apply for a licence.

Kirk Anastasiadis was the only Windsor-Essex applicant to earn the chance to file. 

Figures released by the AGCO show 137 applicants submitted loterry forms to open a store in Windsor. 

One application was filed for each of Amherstburg, Leamington and Kingsville, while 10 applications for stores were filed in each of Chatham and Sarnia. 

Tahmina Aziz/CBC

Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos and Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald both said they'd like to see changes to the AGCO's cannabis licensing model to make it easier for communities interested in establishing physical stores to do so. 

"Not having won the lottery unfortunately is something that … we have no control over," said Santos. 

It's worth noting that LaSalle and Tecumseh also voted to opt out of physical cannabis retail stores. 

Representatives from both municipalities confirmed that their position on physical stores hadn't changed.