Marijuana questions to spark council debates
|By Lisa Gervais - Editor, with files from Mark Arike | August 30, 2018
One of the first things newly-elected Haliburton County councils will have to do is make decisions around the legalization of cannabis, says Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt.
Moffatt recently returned from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) annual conference in Ottawa, where there was more information leading up to the Oct. 17 legalization date. The provincial government will introduce legislation this fall to allow the private sector to sell recreational marijuana by next April 1.
Until then, people 19 and older can buy it online from the Ontario Cannabis Store. The province will also license retail outlets for standardization.
It was also stressed at AMO that municipalities will have a one-time opportunity to opt out of having a retail store in their community. According to Moffatt, they will also have a one-time chance of opting back in. She told The Highlander the province in anticipating “this will be the first question newly-elected councils will have to consider when they reconvene after the election. The general chatter was that probably a lot of municipalities will opt out temporarily while they get their ducks in a row and then opt back in.”
She said another decision will be about how to spend their share of the $40 million from the federal cannabis excise tax coming over the next two years to help manage the transition. It’s estimated municipalities will get a minimum of $10,000 each, but it’s also feared that won’t be enough.
“They’re seeking our input on how we would like that distributed,” Moffatt said. “We have to be very careful about how we discuss what we’d like that revenue allocation to look like going forward to ensure it provides enough money for us to implement what needs implementing.”
Moffatt said while some people perceive it as a policing issue, “there are municipal implications that are across the board. We’re not talking about panic here, we’re talking about a planned step-by-step discussion about how we need to prepare, but time is running out.”
Moffatt said nearly every township department could be impacted, with bylaw in particular needing a solid plan. For example, she anticipates there will be neighbourhood disputes, such as if someone is hanging laundry outside and complains about someone else’s smoking next door. She added there could be complaints about smoking on docks, in boats and on beaches. Right now, she said bylaw has neither the power nor tools to do anything. Another example is if EMS visited a home and found 10 cannabis plants growing when the law only allows four. What would they do? She said there are also implications for property standards, planning and zoning, and even waste treatment.
“This is not a paranoia, reefer madness, kind of thing. This is about a municipality being ahead of the curve enough to be prepared coming into the fall and budget discussions,” she said.
Haliburton OPP detachment commander Liane SpongHooyenga said they already enforce the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act so, “we just have to realign and adapt to new amendments and legislation as it is introduced, as we have done in the past and will continue to do so in the future."
She said that in the lead up to Oct. 17, the OPP has been working to ensure it’s prepared to enforce the new legislation. In addition, Spong-Hooyenga said the OPP has
established a Cannabis Working Group made up of a number of areas from across the organization that is focused on understanding the operational impacts and developing training, procedures and policies. She said OPP training has been updated and expanded to better detect drug-impaired drivers. Additional officers are being trained in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing and as Drug Recognition Experts.
“The OPP will have the tools and training we need to effectively do our work. The OPP is committed to supporting safe and healthy communities for all Ontarians,” she told The Highlander.
During Monday’s Dysart meeting, council briefly talked about retail cannabis sales. Enforcement and zoning were two issues that came up.
“Yes, I think we need to be discussing it,” said Deputy Mayor Andrea Roberts.
Coun. Dennis Casey said it will be important to find out what support they will get from the province, especially when it comes to enforcement.
“As we all know, we have a one-lady [bylaw] department,” said Casey. Mayor Murray Fearrey said the money they will get from the province will “never be enough” to pay for a 24/7 service.
“I think we’re not alone in this. Everybody is not sure what they’re going to do,” he said. CAO Tamara Wilbee said the municipality is waiting to see if the province will establish a framework or set conditions for retail stores, such as their proximity to schools. (With files from Mark Arike)
LISA GERVAIS is the editor for The Highlander.