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By Jessica Durling, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Brampton was an early adopter of legal cannabis retail, but some members of City Council are asking for additional oversight to safeguard certain residents from any potentially negative outcomes.
While Mississauga Council is opening the door to cannabis retail stores, Brampton’s elected members are calling on the Province to tighten regulations as some councillors do not want the thriving legal market in the city to operate in close proximity to schools and other public spaces.
Councillor Michael Palleschi says when council originally chose to opt-in to allow legal cannabis retail stores in Brampton, he was supportive because he believed it “wasn’t going to be a huge thing” and the glut of applications received by the City for new stores would eventually even out as the market determined how many could actually survive.
The legal cannabis market is thriving in Brampton. Since opting-in, 48 licenses have been issued to various retailers throughout the city, and four others are still in the process of being approved. Palleschi and others are now looking for an additional layer of policy to enhance the experience of community members with concerns about where retailers should be located.
“I think we need provincial help on this, we need more authority and control when it comes to these retail stores opening up in the municipality,” Palleschi told Committee of Council on April 26. “They’re getting awfully close to parks, rec centres, private schools. I know staff are doing their best in terms of trying to keep them as far away as possible from these locations, but then we look at where the kids leave lunch during lunch period and then all go as a group to the local plaza that is a hundred and maybe fifty metres away from the school. They’re using fancy signs, big signs, lights, all kinds of stuff to draw your attention to these cannabis stores.”
Currently, legal cannabis stores are not permitted within 150 metres of a school.
According to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, retailers “must have signage clearly identifying their business on the exterior of the authorized store.
“Advertising may not: appeal to or target persons under 19 years of age… (or) promote cannabis or cannabis accessories in a way that is false, misleading, or deceptive.”
The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) has a number of strict recommendations around the sale, promotion and content of legal cannabis to protect children and other groups. Similar steps have been taken by policy makers to control the impact of cigarettes and alcohol.
“A large body of evidence indicates that adolescents are significantly more likely than those who are older to experience harms associated with cannabis use,” according to research cited by the CCSA. “Therefore, policies aimed at preventing or delaying cannabis use among youth play an important role in protecting their health and well-being. Minimum legal age had initially been a complex and controversial issue, with various thresholds being recommended. While the federal government recommended age 18 years, the medical community argued for 21 or even 25 years and public consultations led most provinces and territories to adopt age 19 years.” Citing evidence, the “CCSA supports current regulations that restrict access to cannabis for people younger than 18 years of age but encourages all provinces to adopt a minimum legal age of at least 19 years.”
The organization stresses the need to control the promotion of legal cannabis, especially to prevent the targeting of children and young people who are not allowed to purchase it. “A large body of research shows that plain packaging and health warnings on tobacco products reduces product appeal and increases awareness of tobacco-related harms… Plain packaging and health warnings have also been shown to be effective at decreasing smoking rates, decreasing smoking initiation and increasing attempts to quit. Research on cannabis similarly shows that plain packaging and health warnings reduces brand appeal and increases health knowledge among youth and young adults… By contrast, brand imagery on cannabis packaging can promote lifestyle associations and increase the appeal of cannabis products… Based on this evidence, CCSA supports maintaining regulations requiring plain packaging and comprehensive health warnings.”
The organization has highlighted other concerns regarding children and younger teens.
“The introduction of edible cannabis products to the legal market has been accompanied by increased rates of accidental cannabis poisoning among children. Importantly, rates of cannabis poisonings in Quebec, which prohibits the sale of most edible cannabis products, were considerably lower than in other provinces. These findings suggest that restrictions on the sale of attractive and palatable cannabis edible products may be key policy considerations for the prevention of cannabis poisonings among children. CCSA recommends further clarifying S.31 of the Cannabis Act, which prohibits the sale of cannabis or cannabis accessories that have ‘an appearance, shape or another sensory attribute or function that appeal to youth that there are reasonable grounds to believe could be appealing to young persons.’ CCSA is concerned that the current scope of products available — including cookies, brownies, and colourful and sweet gummies (or soft chews) — would in fact reasonably be considered appealing to young people. A remedy to this concern could be to have cannabis producers demonstrate, through established research criteria, that their products do not contain elements that appeal to children and youth.”
Regarding concerns about the promotion of Cannabis and the potential to influence young people, the CCSA says information is still not available but examples of other markets can serve as a guide.
“Data on the effects of cannabis promotion are limited. However, a large body of evidence indicates that promotion and marketing of alcohol can influence the start of alcohol use, frequency of use and quantity consumed among youth and young adults… This evidence can provide a knowledge base for policies aimed at restricting promotion and marketing of cannabis, which are important to preventing cannabis consumption and cannabis-related harms among youth. Despite restrictions around cannabis advertising and promotion, promotional activity is present, particularly online…There is evidence that youth are being exposed to cannabis advertisements and ongoing research also shows that a significant proportion of online promotion by licence holders is more than informative. Many of these promotions include features that incite the use of cannabis or make cannabis use attractive… CCSA recommends greater monitoring and enforcement of cannabis promotional activities, particularly those online and in-store.”
A motion from Councillor Palleschi, seconded by Councillor Gurpartap Singh Toor, passed during the meeting, which directs Mayor Patrick Brown to send correspondence to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) requesting additional prohibitions when licensing legal cannabis stores, to expand the 150-metre requirement from schools, and to also include parks, public facilities, places of worship and group homes.
The correspondence will also be sent to all Brampton MPPs, and Palleschi requested Brown have a conversation with them about funding to support programs from Peel Regional Police to deal with the ongoing illegal cannabis market.
In Ontario, municipalities that chose to opt-out into hosting legal cannabis stores before January 22, 2019 were eligible for specific funding from upper levels of government to support the transition, including for local police forces to expand operations to address legal cannabis use. Cities such as Brampton that opted-in do not have the option to opt-out.
For those municipalities that opted-in at the time, the provincial government provided $40 million over two years through the Ontario Cannabis Legalization Implementation Fund which was intended to combat the illegal market.
Palleschi said that was a “huge incentive” for Brampton Council to opt-in — one that is no longer available.
Brampton Council opted-in through an 8-3 vote in 2019, with those in opposition including Councillor Harkirat Singh, former councillor Gurpreet Dhillon, and then-councillor-now-Brampton MPP Charmaine Williams.
Recently, after having the distinction of being the largest Canadian city to maintain a ban on legal cannabis retail, Mississauga made the decision to open its doors to the legal market through an 8-4 vote. Concerns around the lack of adequate municipal oversight, the risk of “clustering” (too many stores in a small area); and a desire to seek better municipal control over cannabis retail store locations before allowing them had swayed the majority of Mississauga council members to previously deny legal cannabis in their city.
According to a recent report by Mississauga staff, residents were disproportionately served by the illegal cannabis market, creating more pressure to allow legal operations. After Toronto, Mississauga has the most illicit cannabis delivery services promoted on illegal websites in the province.
The report also specified, “based on the feedback received from neighbouring municipalities that permit retail cannabis, clustering of stores has not proven to be an issue to date.”
The Mississauga report included information from Peel Police which has found no increase in problems associated with cannabis use since it was legalized.
Brampton councillors suggested the introduction of legal cannabis in neighbouring Mississauga might slow the proliferation of stores in their city, as locations that have served buyers south of the municipal border might face new competition.
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