Staff at a Toronto Montessori school are concerned that the Ontario government has not taken into account the safety of young children in daycare centres when establishing rules around the distance cannabis stores must be from schools.
In detailing regulations for cannabis retail stores in the province late last year, the Progressive Conservative government said that they needed to be located at least 150 metres away from schools. The government rules, however, were silent on how far stores needed to be from child-care centres.
This has led to the possibility that a cannabis store could open several doors down from a Montessori school for young children in the east end of Toronto.
Last week, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) held a lottery to allocate 42 new cannabis retail licences, including 13 in Toronto. The lottery winners gained the right to apply for licences, although their applications still need to be approved by the provincial government.
One of the winning addresses in Toronto’s east end − 964 Kingston Rd. − is not far from the Beaches Montessori School that cares for 62 children.
Leigh Anne Jacques, co-owner of the child-care centre, said in an interview on Tuesday that the reason the 150-metre buffer was put in place was to protect children, and yet it excludes a large group of them. The centre serves children as young as 18 months old, but also includes a number of kindergarteners.
“I’m really angry that nobody’s considered the age group under six,” Ms. Jacques said.
Ms. Jacques said she has been fielding calls from concerned parents this week, but she has received little information from the government.
“It’s hard to tell parents of a four-year-old that ‘sorry, your kid is not protected under legislation until they’re six,' " she said.
Jenessa Crognali, a spokeswoman for Ontario Attorney-General Doug Downey, said on Tuesday that the 150-metre buffer applies to schools, including private schools, as defined by the Education Act. The Montessori is considered a licensed child-care centre and not a school, she said.
“[Expression of interest] for locations near daycares/child-care centres are not screened out in the initial phase of the lottery," she said in an e-mail statement. "However, those authorized to apply for a licence are now subject to the AGCO’s strict due-diligence process that includes a 15-day period where public comments are accepted before determining whether a location is appropriate.”
During last year’s election campaign, Doug Ford said it was a priority to protect children by moving cannabis stores away from schools. But the Premier backtracked on a campaign promise to set a minimum distance between cannabis stores and schools that was more than the 450 metres set by former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne.
Raymond Kahnert, a spokesman for the AGCO, said his agency considers public health and safety and protecting young people when approving a location.
“The AGCO will only license applicants and authorize stores that meet all legal and regulatory requirements," Mr. Kahnert said in an e-mail on Tuesday.
The Globe and Mail was unable to reach Najla Guthrie, the lottery winner who listed 964 Kingston Rd. as her proposed location.
The Ontario cannabis lottery has already drawn criticism for not capping the number of lottery submissions that were allowed to list the same location, leading to clusters of winners across the province.
One address in Oshawa was listed on 169 separate lottery submissions, and was drawn twice as a winning location. Three of the 42 winners are located on contiguous parcels of land on a rural road in Innisfil, south of Barrie.