November 9, 2021
Businesses and councillors in areas where cannabis shops have popped up like mushrooms over the last couple of years are expressing concern about a lack of proper planning and regulation around where they can go.
Meg Marshall, community manager for the Queen Street West BIA, told CP24 that businesses along the busy retail strip have grown worried about the lack of regulations.
“So this has been a concern that we've had for quite some time because there's just no municipal jurisdiction,” Marshall said.
She said the BIA has counted 13 existing and approved pot shops between Bathurst and University streets on Queen Street West, a situation that is not necessarily beneficial for the businesses themselves.
“Maybe some of the current shops that have opened up may not have opened up if they knew that there were so many near them and that the competition was potentially going to be so fierce,” Marshall said.
She said cannabis stores in other neighbourhoods that she works with have expressed some regret about opening up in an area where several similar stores have since opened and called the lack of regulation on the part of the province “a bit of a head scratcher.”
One other issue with having many pot shops clustered together is that they are prevented from showing off their products in the windows, meaning that they have to create storefronts which don’t allow a view inside and are not always aesthetically beneficial to the “vibrancy” of the neighbourhood, Marshall said.
She stressed that the neighbourhood is not against cannabis shops themselves, but wants to see better planning around them.
“I think there just needs to be more thought and more planning put in,” she said. “Just like we try to build cities based off of proper policy, I think we need this proper policy for cannabis shops as well.”
Two city councillors are now pushing for a one-year moratorium on the issuing of new licensees for cannabis retail stores in Toronto.
Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam and Coun. Paula Fletcher will table a motion at city council this week requesting that the Ford government pause the issuing of new licensees for one year or until a private members bill which would give municipalities more say over the location of pot shops is passed.
That legislation, Bill 29, has already passed first reading in the legislature.
“There's a lot of cannabis stores but the problem is they're clustered in certain areas. So just last year on Queen Street East we had applications for four between the addresses of 698 Queen Street East and 800 (Queen Street East). So those are four clustered in an area near a school, near a community centre, near many things that we didn’t think we would be having cannabis stores near,” Fletcher, who represents the east-end riding of Toronto-Danforth, told CP24 on Monday afternoon. “I don't want to give the wrong impression. I'm all in favor of the legalization of marijuana but the over-concentration of stores is becoming a problem in parts of Toronto.”
When cannabis was first legalized in 2018 the Ontario government allowed municipalities to opt in or out of having brick-and-mortar retail stores in their communities.
But it did not give municipalities that did opt in any say over the location of cannabis stores or even the number that could be located in any single neighbourhood.
That, Fletcher said, has led to a bit of a “wild wild west” environment where some main streets are being increasingly taken over by cannabis retailers.
This is especially true in downtown Toronto where there were 163 cannabis retail outlets as of this summer, according to data provided to the Business News Network by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.
“They're driving the rents up so high that many (other businesses) are having to leave, landlords aren't renewing the leases on long-time tenants and if they fail, if these cannabis shops fail then who's going to move in to pay the rent at that site?” Fletcher asked on Monday. “It's kind of like the wild wild west but I call it the wild wild beast.”
The motion which will be considered by council says that municipalities already have the ability to weigh in on the location of other businesses that sell controlled substances, such as LCBO storefronts, and that the same process should apply to cannabis retail outlets.
Under Ontario's Cannabis Licence Act, municipalities can opt out of having retail stores in their cities but once the prohibition is lifted it cannot be revived.
“There is one situation on Queen East where there's seven cannabis shops,” Fletcher told CP24. “You wouldn't find seven LCBOs back-to-back on any street. So there really is some recalibrating that we have to do now this has been in place for a year or two.”