It’s not that far — maybe a dozen houses, or the length of a city block.
With the possibility of cannabis stores setting up shop just 150 metres away from a school — under rules announced by the province last week — municipalities are now being urged to put some more distance between the two.
“The concept of 150 metres is remarkably less than what the premier was speaking about in the election campaign just months ago, when he was saying that 450 metres was not sufficient, that there needs to be greater distance away from schools,” said Toronto District School Board Trustee Ken Lister.
Lister said that in Toronto, body rub services have to be 500 metres away from schools, video arcades 300 metres and even liquor stores must be located further away.
“But, you know, a marijuana store — 150 metres … to me, that’s dangerous,” he said, calling that distance “very, very close” and one that puts student well-being at risk.
Mayor John Tory said he continues to be “concerned about safety for kids and about the proximity of cannabis stores to places like schools.”
“From what I understand, the rules propose to reduce the distance between schools and cannabis stores. I would generally see that as not something that I would look upon favourably,” he told reporters Thursday, adding that he hopes the city can “have some input” on the rules.
“My position would be very simple, which is that we should be maximizing safety and the protection of kids and families and neighbourhoods and business from any negative effects that might come about as a result of cannabis retail outlets.”
New regulations also say pot shops can be open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, but only those 19 and older may enter.
Attorney General Caroline Mulroney has said the new guidelines, including the 150-metre minimum, are to keep “kids safe and to ensure all people operating in this tightly regulated retail system behave with integrity, honesty, and in the public interest.”
The government is spending $4.1 million for public education campaigns on cannabis use for youth in Toronto, as well as creating provincial ads.
During public hearings on the cannabis legislation held at Queen’s Park last month, the group representing all 35 of Ontario’s boards of health said there needs to be a limit on the number of stores and limits as to where the drug can be consumed. They were hoping for outright bans in areas where children hang out.
Seeing too many stores around them and people consuming it out on the streets could normalize the drug and promote a “generation of nicotine and cannabis addicts,” warned Dr. Robert Kyle, president of the Association of Local Public Health Agencies.
NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles, a former Toronto public board trustee herself, said the government was wrong to set regulations without any public consultation.
“Parents, teachers and school boards are right to be concerned about Doug Ford’s latest backroom decision — this time to allow cannabis shops to move within a stone’s throw of kids’ schools,” she said.
“This move is a complete reversal of what communities were led to believe and Ford did it with no input from the people or communities impacted the most.”
Lister, the trustee for Don Valley East, is hoping Toronto will set larger buffers than 150 metres.
He has a motion going before a board committee on Wednesday asking that the TDSB be in on discussions about where stores will be located.
“I think a lot of people are concerned about having kids with marijuana stores nearby their school, and whether or not they might be influenced by seeing it every day,” he also said.
Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards Association, said 150 metres is “not the very best scenario.”
However, she said the impact is different in urban and rural areas. Just back from a tour of Northwestern Ontario school boards, she said “there’s more than one school that 150 metres from that school might take you right out of town. That’s the remote piece.”
Elected officials in municipalities such as Windsor and Hamilton are also said to be worried about the 150 metres, raising the possibility of opting out of having storefronts in their communities entirely.
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy