It’s yes to cannabis retail storefronts and no to pipeline support

By Jamie Morris

City Council opts in for cannabis retail storefronts.

In recorded votes on Tuesday council voted to support private recreational cannabis retail storefronts in Kawartha Lakes but rejected a motion that would have supported pipeline development.

If there was an overarching theme for the meeting it maybe had to do with connections.

As proceedings began, Councillor Pat O’Reilly congratulated Mayor Andy Lethem on being elected 2019 chair of the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (EOWC), a position that will allow him to advocate on behalf of the 103 municipalities and the 750,000 property taxpayers across rural Eastern Ontario, including for improved cellular and mobile broadband connections.

With an approaching Jan. 22 provincial deadline for communities to approve or reject private recreational cannabis retail storefronts, CAO Ron Taylor recommended opting-in, reporting, “Staff has participated in numerous conversations with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario and are satisfied that the AGCO licensing requirements, if diligently enforced, will be effective in ensuring private cannabis sales are done in a manner that will minimize social harm.”

The AGCO (the body responsible for licensing, regulating and inspecting retail cannabis stores and staff) has developed a licensing process for private cannabis retailers to ensure that private recreational cannabis retail storefronts operate in a manner that will encourage safe use of cannabis products and to prevent cannabis consumption by youth under the age of 19. Additional regulations for private recreational cannabis retail storefronts include:

  • Stores must be 150 metres from any private or public elementary or secondary school;
  • Stores must be standalone, meaning they stand alone; they cannot be a part of a store or added to stores that sell other products, including pharmacies and stores selling alcohol;
  • Persons must be 19 years of age or older to enter the stores;
  • Stores are only permitted to sell legally-sourced cannabis and cannabis accessories;
  • Stores are only permitted to operate between 9 am and 11 pm; and
  • Cannabis, cannabis packaging, or cannabis accessories must not be displayed in a way that may be seen by a young person.

Taylor reported that City staff monitored correspondence received from members of the public, business associations, as well as other agencies and organizations and that the majority of responses have been in favour of permitting private recreational cannabis stores. That included an enthusiastic endorsement from the Lindsay and District Chamber of Commerce (the letter can be read in its entirety in this Advocate story).

In his motion to opt-in, Councillor Doug Elmslie expressed what proved to be the consensus view: “There’s no downside to opting-in.”

Before the unanimous vote in favour, Councillor Ron Ashmore asked about whether there would be any costs to the community or municipal tax-payers. Taylor said he didn’t foresee any, and explained that in addition to the monies the Province had committed to communities opting-in, there was separate funding for police and for Health Unit and school board cannabis education. He suggested the money the City receives could be put into a reserve, “while we see how it plays out.”

The first stores are slated to open April 1, but don’t expect our downtowns to be flooded with cannabis retail outlets. Only 25 will open in Ontario, and of those only five will go to communities in Eastern Ontario (a region that includes Ottawa, Kingston, and Peterborough).

Additional stores will not open until December at the earliest (there were close to 17,000 “expressions of interest” and 100 drawn in a lottery are assigned to a waiting-list).

Earlier in the meeting an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) between the City of Kawartha Lakes and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Kawartha Lakes/Boys and Girls Clubs was approved.

As outlined in the agenda, the intent of the MOU is “to document the shared intent of the CITY and the CLUB to develop an active and supportive relationship within which the respective organizations can advance their strategic priorities of mutual interest including child/youth leadership, economic prosperity, and physical, intellectual and emotional well-being of young people for the benefit of both organizations and the larger community.”

In speaking for the City, CAO Taylor, spoke of this as a formalizing of a positive partnership that has long existed. Asked about the value he stated “The key benefits of the MOU are that it strengthens our partnership, provides clarity of partner expectations and activities, and outlines the partnership to support grant applications and/or donor confidence in shared programs and projects.”

Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Scott Robertson took the opportunity to thank a number of city departments (including Human Services, Planning and Building, and Economic Development) for their support over the organization’s nearly 50 years.

Both Councillor O’Reilly and Mayor Letham in turn congratulated and thanked Robertson, who will be retiring February 15th, for his contributions over the past three decades. O’Reilly noted the Boys and Girls Club has made a huge difference.

“It’s made our community a better place to be.” (For Robertson’s reflections on his career read this Advocate interview.)

At the meeting one more connection moved a step closer to completion. Council approved the hiring of Dillion Consulting to carry out an environmental assessment for a second Fenelon Falls area crossing to relieve congestion on the single bridge. The quoted cost of the assessment will be $228,369.00 plus HST.

On a more concerning note, council received a report on a Lindsay water pollution control plant provincial order and the response to that order.

The concern has been elevated total ammonia nitrogen (TAN) levels. The acceptable limit for these is 1.5 mg/L.  Reported levels in May to September 2017 averaged more than double that (3.8 mg/L). Elevated levels continued through October of 2018, with July 2018 levels averaging 11.6 mg/L and October’s 8.5 mg/L.

According to a Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks surface water specialist, “TAN released into the environment will convert to nitrite and then nitrate. After phosphorous, nitrate is an important nutrient that affects the primary productivity and algal biomass of freshwater lake and rivers. Nutrient levels are strongly related to the aesthetic appearance of a water body and are correlated to decreases in water transparency resulting from an increase in algal biomass. Increased biomass may result in long-term decreases in oxygen concentrations with consequences for fish habitat.”

An order had been issued directing the City to retain the services of a qualified person to prepare an action plan to address TAN excedances and “non-compliance issues.”

The City has acknowledged an under-performing aeration cell, and in responding to questions from Elmslie and Bryan Robinson, director of public works, said they’d been aware of the TAN levels. Robinson went on, though, to explain that a review of the order had been requested and a stay issued. “They’ve ordered us to do something we’re already doing,” said Robinson.

In a report appendix, Manager of Environmental Services David Kerr suggested the situation is well in hand. He outlined steps that had been taken to ensure expert oversight and necessary upgrades. The current jet aerator contributed to November 2018 levels below 1 mg/L (so, well within acceptable limits) and the City has budgeted for purchase and installation of a second jet aerator in early 2019.

The question of why elevated levels were allowed to continue for as long as they did and what could be done to more quickly manage this kind of environmental issue remains.

One of the last matters up for discussion was Ashmore’s resolution: “That, as completing critical pipeline infrastructure is vital to the whole country economically and environmentally, the Council of the City of Kawartha Lakes fully support the completion of these pipelines and the employment and tax revenue that it will give our country; and That this resolution be circulated to the Prime Minister of Canada, Provincial Premiers and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.”

After brief discussion, Ashmore’s motion was received but voted down, with six opposed and Ashmore and Councillor Yeo voting in favour.

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