Add Hawkesbury to the list of Prescott-Russell municipalities where a retail cannabis store could one day open.

At a special meeting on Thursday, January 10, council unanimously voted to notify the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) that Hawkesbury is open to allowing a private retail outlet selling cannabis to operate in the town if licence is ever granted to an interested operator.

Councillors Lawrence Bogue and Antonios Tsourounakis spoke strongly in support of allowing retail cannabis in town.

Bogue said he does not want cannabis sales to be totally on the black market in Hawkesbury.

He said allowing the retail stores fits in with Hawkesbury’s role as a regional commercial centre and permitting the stores would be beneficial for people who already visit Hawkesbury for shopping and other needs.

Tsourounakis said he would like to see cannabis sold in legitimate businesses.

“We can’t stick our heads in the sand and pretend it will go away,” he said, in reference to the fact cannabis is now legal and will be sold in private retail stores in Ontario.

Councillor Yves Paquette favoured permitting a cannabis store in town, but still had some concerns about the effects it could have on the community.

He is also concerned about black market sales and how much of the tax revenue municipalities will get from the province from cannabis sales.

The federal government is going to share some of the tax revenue from cannabis sales with provincial governments. The Ontario government is expecting to receive $40 million from the federal government over the next two years and plans to share some of it with all municipalities in the province.

At one point in the discussion, Paquette said “Not here, Mr. Ford!” in reference to provincial cannabis policies and retail sales.

However, Paquette later explained he was not against allowing a store to locate in Hawkesbury, but he wanted to make his concerns about social and safety issues known.

His other concerns include access to cannabis by minors.

Paquette questioned how legal cannabis suppliers will be able to do business when there will still be black market suppliers undercutting them.

“How is the government going to compete with them?” he asked.

“At the end of the day, the law is the law,” said Councillor Robert Lefebvre.

He said it is regrettable though that the Ontario government implemented the retail sales policies without much consultation.

Municipalities have until January 22 to decide if they’ll allow a cannabis store within their boundaries if a business owner is awarded a licence through the AGCO lottery process.

A lottery draw is to take place on January 11, 2019 to select those who will be able to apply for Retail Operator Licenses, which will be awarded after the Alcohol & Gaming Commission of Ontario reviews the applicant.

Mayor Paula Assaly said the unanimous vote showed there was solidarity among councillors on the question.

“It’s a new experience,” she said, referring to dealing with legal cannabis in communities.

Assaly said council decided to make the decision when it did so it could to ensure proper planning could be done, and so it could move onto other priorities.

The mayor said the ideal location for a cannabis store in Hawkesbury would be in an existing commercial zone.

She said one investor already expressed interest late last year.

“I had somebody who actually came to me,” said Assaly.

The individual wanted to sign a lease for retail space next to the former LCBO store downtown.

Assaly said she told the business person to wait due to uncertainties over provincial policy at the time.

In addition to Hawkesbury, La Nation, Clarence-Rockland, and Russell township councils have voted to allow retail cannabis in their municipalities.

Councillor Lawrence Bogue spoke in favour of allowing retail cannabis in Hawkesbury. Photo: James Morgan

Councillor Robert Lefebvre–“The law is the law.” Photo: James Morgan