Windsor Councillor to raise questions about cannabis retail store at next council meeting

Windsor Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin says he plans on raising concerns over a recent report opposing the proposed 545 Ouellette Ave. location for the city's first cannabis retail store. 

On Monday, Bortolin said he was surprised by the comments made in the report, as well as the position taken by city administrators.

"I didn't realize that this letter was coming," said Bortolin. "I figured that if the letter was coming out, that we would have gotten a heads up well before this."

The report, filed to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) last Friday, included additional documents outlining concerns about the proposed location from both Windsor Police Service and the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU).

Key concerns include the location's proximity to Immaculate Conception Catholic Elementary School, which is roughly 160 metres away, as well as the location's proximity to the Transition Stability Centre, which is roughly 260 metres away. 

Windsor police expressed concerns about an alley near the proposed store, as well as other public safety challenges.

The health unit obviously has their agenda ... - Rino Bortolin, Windsor Ward 2 Councillor

According to Bortolin, the report seemed "incongruent" with a motion passed by council in January 2019, which established criteria governing administration's ability to provide comments on potential retail store locations to the AGCO — criteria Bortolin said the health unit ignored.

The documents included in the City's report to the AGCO, WECHU recommended that no cannabis retail store operate within 500 metres of buildings like schools, libraries, parks, as well as addiction and mental health facilities, hospitals and alcohol, tobacco or cannabis-related businesses.

As per the AGCO and the City of Windsor, cannabis retail stores aren't allowed to operate within 150 metres of schools and certain sensitive sites.

"The health unit obviously has their agenda, which they have every right and position to take, but their position is that they don't want cannabis sold, smoked or anything," said Bortolin.

"You do not skip over our criteria and use the health unit's criteria. So that's where my concern is and that's where a lot of my questions will be directed at the next council meeting."

Bortolin said he spent some of the weekend fielding phone calls from residents concerned about the city's opposition to the proposed site.

Windsor Ward 2 Coun. Fabio Costante said he received emails from frustrated residents "thinking that it was council's decision to deny this location."

Instead, Costante pointed out that opposition comes from city administration — not city councillors.

Tahmina Aziz/CBC

"It's important that the public know that the council did delegate the authority for administration to review the applications and consult with the broader community," said Costante. "And so, if we feel like these restrictions are too burdensome, we may have to look at perhaps changing the framework moving forward."

Costante said "it makes a lot of sense" for Windsor's first cannabis retail store to be situated in the city's downtown core, adding that 

"So it's going to be hard to determine what the appropriate location is based on some of those restrictions that were outlined," he said. 

CBC News attempted to speak with Mayor Drew Dilkens, but he declined to comment.

George Robinson, the City of Windsor's revitalization and policy initiatives planner, previously told CBC News that officials have little power when it comes to awarding licences for cannabis retail spaces.

A similar point is outlined in the city's report.

"The AGCO is the provincial authority that licenses cannabis retail operators, authorizes cannabis retail locations and licenses senior store staff," reads an excerpt from the city's AGCO submission. "The City of Windsor will have no licensing authority and will have no recourse if the AGCO issues a license despite any objections by the municipality."