VCA comments for City Council (COW) consideration of the implementation of canabis-related legislation

Thank you Chair, my name is Chris Greenshields, I am speaking on behalf of the Vanier Community Association, the VCA.  I am a board member and Chair of the VCA’s Sustainable Development and Transportation Committee.

First, I wish to commend City staff for their report and recommendations.  The report is comprehensive and we support the recommendations, while recognizing the limitations placed on the role of municipalities by the Ontario Cannabis Licence Act.  We support the recommendation to opt in recognizing the benefits of a legal regime for the sale of cannabis in Ottawa.  The VCA has submitted a report as further background as City Council considers  the issues related to the development and implementation of a Cannabis regime.  This report and our recommendations, in addition to City staff recommendations, reflect our particular concerns about the proliferation of cannabis retail stores, the importance of separation distances between stores and to avoid concentration, or clustering of stores, in sensitive and vulnerable communities like Vanier.   We also favour provision for public consultations.

Our community has already spoken up about pay-day loans and the City’s need to avoid clustering of such businesses in vulnerable communities.  We were encouraged by the Province’s enabling legislation in this regard; we are waiting for City action on it, but we welcome that in the City staff’s cannabis report, separation is increasingly being recognized in planning decisions.  We hope that finally, recognition is consistently being given by the City to the harm of the concentration of single-type businesses in a vulnerable community in respect of its social and economic development, its public health and safety.   We see a parallel between the concentration of pay-day loan establishments and cannabis retail stores.

We also welcome the provision in the recommended principles to provide for separation distances from specific sites, in addition to the legislated separation distance from schools. The Staff report recommendation that AGCO consider any additional local issues not captured by other principles is particularly relevant for Vanier.  While the City failed to take into account in its planning process community concerns about the impact of a proposed mega-shelter on existing social services in the immediate neighbourhood, the VCA welcomes the recommended principle that “AGCO take into consideration location concerns that may be expressed through comments made by health and/or treatment providers including operators of shelters, group homes, addiction, counselling or other independently managed health services.”   We welcome the principle requiring a separation distance to “any identified publicly-owned and/or operated community facility analogous to a school, such as recreational facilities, community centres, libraries and public parks.”  There is also the question of day-care facilities.

The absence of public consultation in the Staff report is a concern.  We recognize the short time line given for review and comments on applications to open cannabis retail stores.  The Cannabis Licence Act provides for consultations with residents, and we want the City’s expertise and responsibility for community health and safety to be brought to bear in this process.   We also recommend that the City

consider approval of decisions to recognize the role of community associations, social agencies and other community groups, to engage such groups as part of the City’s cannabis regime and to facilitate the role of such groups, as needed, also to represent residents directly as outlined in the Cannabis Licence Act, drawing on the principles outlined in the Staff report.  We also welcome the provision for ward Councillors to veto City comments with respect to their wards, a responsibility for which, they also need support from City staff to engage their residents, again, especially given the short lead times for review and comments on applications for cannabis retail stores.

As the Staff report states, Staff believe that that the regulatory regime regarding legal recreational cannabis is simply the first step, and that it is highly probable that regulations will shift over time to respond to any unintended consequences of each regime.   Staff suggests that the City process proposed will add to the City’s data about the impact of legalization and the siting of retail stores over time and provide opportunities for evidence-based requests for additional regulatory changes or more regulatory authority.

We think that community groups should be part of this exercise and be able to contribute to the process.  This is consistent with the City’s intention to create “a response matrix for the City response agencies for service calls and requests for information, recognizing each agency’s area of particular responsibility”.   In terms of a review of the cannabis regime, periodic consultations with such groups, such as the Federation of Civic Associations (FCA) would seem appropriate.

In summary, our recommendations, additional to the Staff’s report, are outlined in the VCA report and cover the following:

  • Language in a City Council decision recognizing the role of community groups in the City’s cannabis regime confirming the City’s readiness to work with FCA, community associations and other community groups such as community services centres on a city-wide basis in this regard.
  • An electronic notification system to alert community associations and identification of a contact point would be an important step to increase transparency in a timely manner.
  • A periodic consultative process with community associations and other groups as implementation proceeds and lessons are drawn.

Merci. Thank you.