Belleville – Local chambers are urging the provincial government to begin a consultative process aimed at developing a regulatory framework for the distribution of medical marijuana.
Both the Belleville and District and the Quinte West chambers of commerce are standing behind a letter, authored by Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) President and CEO Allan ODette and directed to Premier Kathleen Wynne. on the issue of recreational marijuana.
In light of recent commitments from the federal government to legalize marijuana, the OCC is calling on the province to immediately begin a robust consultative process aimed at developing a regulatory framework for the distribution of recreation marijuana.
The letter outlines key messages (see fact box on Page A4 for more details) that the collective business community thinks the province should consider.
According to the OCC, the government needs to ensure if recreational marijuana becomes available that the underground economy is eliminated, access points are limited and that communities have decision-making power. Addiction prevention and treatment programs need to be invested in and the government needs to ensure marijuana products are subject to best-practice health regulation.
The chambers believe there is opportunity for the private sector to benefit from the distribution of recreational marijuana.
Bill Saunders, CEO of the Belleville and District Chamber of Commerce, said chamber does not support the premiers suggestion that recreational marijuana retailing should be restricted to the governments 650 LCBO outlets.
The chamber network is not supporting the use of marijuana. This is a governmental issue. Were just saying if youre going to move in that direction, make sure theres an opportunity for the private sector to participate, he said.
To have the private sector ignored from the potentially $1 billion industry, just doesnt seem right, he said.
I dont want to generalize too much but I could see where there might be generational issues where people going into the LCBO, to buy wine or whatever, might be offended by the fact that theres now marijuana being dispensed, which has certain social stigmas associated with it he said.
More importantly, we know the private sector can handles these types of situations typically better than government agencies, he said.
Quinte West Chamber of Commerce manager Suzanne Andrews said, from her perspective, the most important point in the letter is eliminating the underground economy. An overly-regulated regime will only help to sustain illegal channels for production and distribution.
She said she already hears about underground economies operating in other trades for example, construction.
Ill hear from construction related businesses about how theyre doing everything legal so they have to comply with the workers compensation, the taxation and the workplace health and safety and all the red tape and the regulation they have to go through to run their business, she said. Then they talk about other people who operate in the underground economy who dont have safe worksites, dont charge taxes. So I know that bothers a lot of legitimate businesses around the fact the government has never really been able to get rid of that.
If the government is going to do this and move forward with the legalization, I think its going to upset a lot of business people if all that happens is they create this underground economy where theyre not getting the taxes, its not controlled, where the where the access points are not safe.
Both Saunders and Andrews agree careful consideration needs to be given to municipalities ability to set bylaws or put procedures in place about where these facilities will be able to operate in the community if they even want them there.
It is the municipalities that pay the police costs and other services that are going to be dealing with some of the outcomes of this decision, said Andrews. So we really feel that theres a responsibility from the government to allow local municipalities to have some say in what happens.
Neither Saunders or Andrews has received much feedback on recreational marijuana from local businesses simply because the business community is really waiting to see what happens next.
Andrews did say that the medical marijuana business Marijuana for Trauma, specifically aimed at veterans, was supported by many businesses when it opened in Trenton.
There seems to be a consensus out there that if things are done properly and in a controlled manor that this doesnt have to be a negative impact on our community, she said.
The consultation process needs to include a broad group of stakeholders including healthcare professionals and police agencies, municipal representatives and business community representation.
Theres a lot of questions to be answered and I think the best answers would come from a very broad and diverse group of people, said Saunders.