Did Brampton Do A Better Job on Cannabis Than Mississauga?

 

It seems that in the past few months, a good chunk of local news in Brampton and Mississauga has been dominated by the issue of having retail cannabis stores in both cities.

The debate is not over whether cannabis should be "allowed or not"; that debate was settled in the federal Parliament way back and as of October 2018, cannabis (or marijuana for you purists out there) became legal in this country.

But the debate over having cannabis retail stores was remarkably different between both cities. On one hand, you could say Brampton may have somewhat dawdled back in December when they postponed their final decision to late January, citing the need for additional public consultation. Meanwhile, Mississauga councillors voted on December 12 to opt out, which seemed more quick and decisive.

Citing that while the city was prepared for a government controlled model rather than the private retail model brought in by Doug Ford's government, Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie said they were opting out so they could conduct further consultation and in the future the city may choose to opt in.

However, it seems other than having one public meeting to gauge feedback, there wasn't much that Mississauga did to really engage the public about retail cannabis in the city. It may have seem decisive on one hand, but very rushed on another. Considering it's the third largest city in Ontario and all this language about doing big things from those in charge, it seems like a backwards move by Mississauga councillors.

As for Brampton' dawdling, in retrospect the extra time may have helped as the city embarked (within the space of a few short weeks) a variety of public consultation exercises ranging from an in-person town hall information meeting, telephone town halls as well as online surveys to gauge public reactions to retail cannabis stores.

There were also elements of suspenseful uncertainty in Brampton's case, such as the councillor who said she wanted to "build a (political) wall" in order to keep out cannabis stores from not only Brampton, but the entire GTA. In Mississauga there wasn't any councillor who came off as that brazen in their position on the issue. Coupling that with Brampton's notorious history of voting down important initiatives and there was a certainty that the city could do so again.

But in the end, Brampton councillors voted a clear 8-3 to opt in. The surprising opt out votes were Councillors Harkirat Singh and Gurpreet Dhillon, who are usually identified as being in the 'progressive' bloc and with prior affiliations with the NDP. Word is the two politicians have jeopardized their political futures with that party because they voted to opt out.

Nevertheless, Brampton seems to have benefitted from a healthy debate and discussion over the subject, and though many in the city may still feel cannabis has no place in the community, at least enough voices was heard to get an idea of where people sit. I've spoken to some Mississauga residents who marveled at how in-depth the consultations were by their northern neighbours, and that's saying something that Mississauga residents were impressed by something Brampton did.

Despite coming from a Conservative leaning background, Brampton mayor Patrick Brown sounded rather sensible in his rationale for opting in, and opting in gives the city a better footing to stand on when it comes to having a say in where stores should go, even if the province ultimately holds the final decision on that front.

Mississauga historically has been more cautious in its decision making, especially when it come to spending. Although cities were expected to foot in a good chunk of change for enforcement of the new laws, apparently being cautious was safer than adopting a policy which in all honesty would have affected around 1 per cent of the population in the city anyways.

I think Brampton actually did a better job in deliberating over whether to opt in or out of cannabis stores than Mississauga did. Given that they could opt in later, let's hope Mississauga learns some lessons from their neighbour and conduct some better civic engagement procedures on this subject.

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