The deadline for Ontario municipalities to opt-in for legal marijuana retailers is drawing closer and closer. The Ford government has given cities and towns until January 22nd to make a decision about whether they want physical pot shops in their areas.
The Conservatives aren't making this decision any easier, though. On top of the deadline for councils to decide, they also have to consider the fact that if they chose to opt in, they can never change their minds and opt back out. That puts a lot of pressure on the councils, most of whom are new since municipal elections were held in October of this year.
None the less, some municipalities have already made those decisions. Toronto and Ottawa voted just over the past two days to allow for legal marijuana retailers.
In fact, 11 other municipalities in Ontario have done the same thing by opting into pot shops. That said, a lot of them are small towns that most people may have never even heard of and a lot of them.
So far, the following Ontario municipalities are among the 13 total opt-ins for having legal marijuana retailers in their towns or cities:
- East Ferris
- Highlands East
- Nairn and Hyman
- The North Shore
- Plummer Additional
Then, of course, there are the towns and cities on the other side of the spectrum who have already decided to opt out of having legal pot shops. The most recent and probably biggest municipalities to officially opt out were Markham and Mississauga, who both voted against physical stores in their cities this week.
They aren't alone in this decision either. So far, eight Ontario municipalities have officially decided to opt out. These towns are:
- Frontenac Islands
- Lake of Woods
If you live in the GTA or other major Ontario cities like Niagara, Waterloo, Kington, Barrie or those surrounding areas, you may start to worry about the fact that your town isn't on either of those lists. But, that's not actually a bad thing.
The Ontario Government has set up the opt-in/opt-out system so that municipalities only have to formally let them know if they are going to opt out. That means that anyone who hasn't let the government know by January 22nd that they want out will automatically be considered in.
This also means though that towns and cities who have decided to opt-in are not required to let the Ontario government know their decision. Some have simply chosen to do so as a courtesy, hence the opt-in list.
So if your town or city isn't on either list yet it could mean that they have chosen to opt in and simply didn't bother telling the Ontario government, or it could mean they are still deciding. The only problem with not knowing is the number of municipalities not on these lists and the large uncertainty that causes.
In Ontario, there are 414 local municipalities. Of those 414, only 21 places have formally decided or announced to the government whether or not they will have legal marijuana retailers in their towns or cities. That is just over 5% of Ontario municipalities.
That means that almost 95% of Ontario cities and towns remain an unknown as far pot shops go and that's not the only concern for consumers when it comes to physical legal retail stores.
Just yesterday, the Ford government decided to double-back on a promise that they wouldn't limit the number of legal pot shop licenses. Now though they have decided to introduce a cap, citing the marijuana supply shortage as part of the reason.
Now the government will only be granting 25 legal retail licenses for the April 2019 launch of physical pot shops. Considering that most of the places to opt in for pot sales are smaller communities, mostly in the north, this doesn't bode well for Ontario consumers.
Firstly, it would severely limit access for the majority of Ontarians if the licenses were all given to retailers in those towns. On the flipside though, it would be unfair to these local economies who have already planned and opted in to weed retailers if all the licenses were granted in Toronto or Ottawa.
We won't have to wait long to find out where those licensed shops will be though. Despite the deadline for opting out not being until January 22nd, the window for interested store operators to apply for a license is between January 7th and 9th. Following that all the operators will go into a lottery system.
From there a draw will be conducted, and overseen by a third-party, on January 11th, 2019 to determine which applications will be granted one of the first 25 licenses in Ontario. The results of that draw will be posted online within 24 hours.
Until then, Ontarians are left in a state of wonder as to whether their local municipality will elect to have pot shops in their towns as the January 22nd deadline draws nearer. At least, in the meantime, we still have the infamous online OCS.
*Cover photo for illustrative purposes only.