WINNIPEG – The northern Manitoba town known as the polar bear capital of the world may be remote, but it’s dealing with the same issue as many of the province’s municipalities — whether cannabis should be sold in the community once recreational use is legalized in July.
Town council has called a public forum for Tuesday to allow Churchill’s 900 residents living on the shores of Hudson Bay to weigh in.
Mayor Mike Spence, who has been dealing with more pressing matters including restoring rail service that was washed out in the spring, said the hearing will allow people to share their thoughts before a looming deadline set by the Manitoba government for all municipalities to signal whether they will allow marijuana retail outlets.
“We really haven’t had the opportunity to discuss this,” Spence said Monday. “There are a lot of unknowns here.”
Like the Manitoba government, municipalities in the province say they are hurrying to prepare for federal cannabis legislation set for July 1. The governing Progressive Conservatives, trying to thwart the existing black market, want enough retail outlets available so that 90 per cent of Manitobans will be within a half-hour drive of a cannabis store.
The government has given private companies until Dec. 22 to submit bids to operate the stores, and has said municipalities should indicate by then whether they plan to allow the shops within their boundaries.
Chris Goertzen, president of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, said he hasn’t yet heard from any municipalities that plan to ban cannabis stores, but many are still consulting their residents and have yet to finalize their plans.
Goertzen, who is also the mayor of Steinbach, Man., said municipalities would be able to control the locations of the stores through zoning bylaws, and could perhaps enact a de facto ban through restrictive zoning rules.
But, he added, the province has made it clear that cannabis will also be available online and, regardless of how it is sold, municipalities are primarily concerned about the increased costs associated with policing and other services.
“There’s a recognition that whether marijuana is sold or not directly in a community, the reality is that it’s going to be consumed in a community.”
Municipal groups across the country have been fighting for a share of the excise tax the federal government plans to apply to cannabis next summer.
“Those costs are going to be there for municipalities whether they have a retail outlet in their location or not and that’s our major concern.”