Canada is taking no chances with marijuana legalization. This means that in the first country in North America to sanction retail sales of recreational cannabis, marijuana zoning laws will make sure to do what adults apparently cannot — keep weed away from schools.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to allow citizens to march into a store and purchase cannabis will at last be fulfilled later this year. In Ontario, the country’s most populous province, all sales will be overseen by government authorities — literally, as all cannabis storefronts will be government-run.
These state-run cannabis retailers should be able to placate non-users and marijuana skeptics, given that the government will be able to directly assure that only people 19 and older will be able to buy legal marijuana.
However, this month, officials in Ontario released the planned locations for the province’s first four marijuana storefronts. In Toronto, one store is to be located in a strip mall “alongside a kid’s tutoring service,” some 450 meters away from an elementary school, as The Toronto Star reported.
“So, what’s the problem?” you may reasonably ask.
As per the paper: “The Toronto strip mall is a popular hangout for high school students from Malvern Collegiate, as well as Neil McNeil and Notre Dame Catholic high schools.”
Never does the newspaper provide the “then” part of the implied conditional sentence here, but the takeaway is obvious: Marijuana zoning laws that allow legal cannabis shops to exist near schools present some kind of threat to the children.
You can credit the Star and the Toronto school board authorities for their restraint in staying silent on this matter — if for no other reason than it is promoting unneeded worry. As studies in the U.S. have shown, legalization does not lead to youth using marijuana.
However, this hasn’t stopped officials and the public from promoting marijuana zoning laws to keep dispensaries far away from children. Last year in Los Angeles, a medical marijuana dispensary located within walking distance of a school was forced to close after parents and teachers organized a series of protests.
“They shouldn’t be here, period,” said Yvonne Chan, the principal of the school, in comments to the Los Angeles Daily News. “They’re going to attract our kids into drugs.”
Chan did not offer a theory as to how that would happen. Nor did she provide examples of kids getting stoned by osmosis as a result of proximity. This is telling, because she didn’t have to. Across America, the thesis that pot stores and schools don’t mix has resulted in strict zoning laws requiring marijuana storefronts to be between 600 to 1000 feet away from schools — restrictions that are often not applied to liquor stores, bars or even strip clubs.
This thesis has no data to support it, and yet is repeated time and again, unchallenged. It’s similar to classic Reefer Madness hysteria, and threatens to either relegate cannabis dispensaries to forbidding parts of town, or choke them out of existence entirely via strict marijuana zoning.
Toronto offers an object lesson. Here’s a map of the city, with a radius of 450 meters from every school.
Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) got flack for placing its 1st Toronto store 450m from a school. If 450m is our ‘inappropriate distance’ metric- well, then we’re going to have a tough time placing any stores. Here are all schools in the city (with a 450m buffer) pic.twitter.com/pot1xHhbiv
— Brendan risotto (@Dovercourter) April 17, 2018
To the Canadians’ credit, there seem to be a few brave voices of reason.
“I’m sure they’d have protocols to prevent children from purchasing the product, that are equal to or greater than the Madison (pub) selling a pint of beer to an 8-year-old,” Brian Burchell, head of a merchants’ association that may soon welcome a dispensary, told the Star. “Everywhere in our area is near a school, along with half of our members being bars.”
Think about it rationally. What incentive is there for a dispensary to become kid-friendly? It would be closed in a heartbeat. The point of a retail outlet is to engage in retail, which is hard to do if you’re closed. It’s past time for the lazy and inaccurate formula around cannabis and schools to be challenged — because when it is, it falls apart at the slightest touch.
TELL US, do you think marijuana zoning laws should keep cannabis and schools separate?