Mississauga to allow cannabis stores

| David Brown

Mississauga City Council voted today to approve a motion to lift its prohibition on cannabis retail stores and permit them to be located in the second-largest city in Ontario.

The motion was approved in an eight-to-four vote. A motion to defer the amendment was rejected in an eighty-to-four vote.

Some councillors who sought to defer the motion, such as Councillor Chris Fonseca, cited concerns from residents, especially around issues of clustering and a lack of control of where stores would be located. Councillor Fonseca, as well as councillors John Kovac, Stephen Dasko, and Carolyn Parrish, were the four votes against the motion.

However, other councillors disagreed, noting that cities and towns in Ontario do have a chance to provide input on any cannabis retail licence applications within their boundaries. 

With over 800,000 residents Mississauga is the second-largest city in the Greater Toronto Area and the third-largest in Ontario. It was one of more than 60 municipalities in Ontario that initially opted out of allowing cannabis stores within city limits. 

Ontario allows municipalities to opt out of allowing cannabis stores, but if they do opt in at any point they can not later reverse the decision. If passed by Council on April 19, the resolution would need to be made available to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) within three business days of its enactment.

A city staff report from March notes that the ban means Mississauga residents “continue to be disproportionately served by the illegal cannabis market compared to municipalities that have opted in.”

It also highlights that Mississauga is missing out on much of the revenue from the provincial government, which has shared around $44 million of the provincial share of federal excise taxes with cities that allowed cannabis stores. That money is now distributed and will not be available to Mississauga or any other city that opts in in the future.

David Lobo, the President & CEO of the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS), says the vote represents significant progress for the entire province. 

“The OCS supports this decision, which will provide residents of Ontario’s third-largest city with legal access to tested, traceable, safer cannabis products while displacing the illegal market.”  

“This marks a major step forward as the cannabis industry continues to evolve within the legal framework.”

Omar Khan, Chief Communications and Public Affairs Officer at High Tide, which operates numerous cannabis stores across Canada, said he is excited by the change of heart by several councillors and the Mayor who had originally voted against allowing cannabis stores in the city in 2018.

“Today’s vote is a victory for everyone who wants to drive out the sale of illegal, untested and non-age-gated cannabis within Mississauga and paves the way for new jobs and investment to come into the city,” said Khan. “Mayor Crombie and Ward 7 Councilor Deepika Damerla deserve special credit for leading the charge to bring Mississauga into the provincial retail cannabis framework. Hopefully, Mississauga’s decision will serve as a beacon for other municipal holdouts in Ontario. As Mississauga’s experience shows, where legal and regulated cannabis sales are prohibited, unregulated, criminal elements will fill the void.”

Jennawae Cavion, the founder at Calyx + Trichomes in Kingston and the Executive Director at NORML Canada, notes that the move is good in general, but could be a difficult one for those operating stores just outside the boundaries of the city.

“Congratulations to Mississauga for finally realizing the harm they have done in their municipality over the last four years by opting out of cannabis sales. They not only allowed the unregulated market to flourish, they also created a false bubble in border cities where their residents would drive to. 

“There is going to be carnage in those border towns and crazy saturation beginning today as hundreds of retailers sign leases. If you thought Queen St was bad wait until you see Mississauga. The province should never have allowed municipalities to opt in or out. Great news for Mississauga residents, but it will be a huge battle for retailers as the gap is quickly filled over the next couple months.”

The City Clerk for Mississauga now has three days to provide the Registrar of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) with written notice of the resolution.

Note: This article has been edited to add quotes from David Lobo, Omar Khan, and Jennawae Cavion.