In a few weeks, the question of whether Hamilton should host private cannabis stores goes before the city’s planning committee.
Within the year before marijuana was legalized, the number of marijuana dispensaries operating in Hamilton had nearly tripled. With nearly 80 dispensaries popping up around the city, Hamilton had the most dispensaries per capita across Ontario, a testament to how huge the weed market really is in our city.
Right now, the only legal way to buy recreational cannabis is through the Ontario Cannabis Store’s website. Come April 2019, the province will roll out a tightly regulated, private retail model which will see the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario granting licenses to private retailers.
Until then, effectively speaking, cannabis dispensaries in Hamilton are illegal and unregulated. But what will happen to the remaining 21 dispensaries that the city has left?
In a presentation in January 2018 by Supt. Ryan Diodati, head of Hamilton’s police’s investigative services, Supt. Diodati noted that nearly 130 hours of staffing time had been invested in one investigation that had taken place in December 2017.
In many cases like this, that same dispensary could reopen the next day, ultimately demonstrating that overall, raids and closures resolve to be ineffective ways to shut down the climbing number of dispensaries across the city.
Municipal governments have until January to opt out of private cannabis stores within their jurisdictions, and there has been lots of talk within city council as to what will happen in April 2019.
Many councillors have put forward their concerns about the fate of dispensaries in the city. Namely Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla, who put forward a motion surrounding the fact that a lack of sustainable revenue sharing from the province in relation to the retail sale of cannabis to municipalities will amplify the regressive downloading crisis in Hamilton.
Considering the effect of nearly 130 hours of police staffing time that goes into one investigation and considering just how obsolete this work really is in shutting dispensaries down, where do we go from here?
Is there a reasonable point in shutting down the remaining dispensaries in Hamilton if they have the resources to open up again within hours? Is there a point to reallocating resources from our police department towards something that has proven to be ineffective?
As of April 2019, storefront dispensaries will have to be licensed by the province, but there will be no cap on the number of outlets within the city. Instead of wasting resources, energy and money on eliminating existing dispensaries within Hamilton, providing these businesses with a license would mean a more accessible and regulated approach to legalization.
The city’s planning committee will decide whether they want to host private cannabis stores on Dec. 11.