By Chad Ingram
Published Feb. 6 2018
There remain a multitude of unanswered questions for Ontario municipalities when it comes to the impending legalization of marijuana this July.
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt attended a seminar on cannabis legalization during the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference.
Renu Kulendran executive director of the Legalization of Cannabis Secretariat for the Ministry of the Attorney General was a presenter at that seminar.
As with alcohol the legal age for the purchase of marijuana in Ontario will be 19. As with alcohol there will be restrictions of where marijuana can be consumed. Recreational cannabis is only to be consumed in private residences and not in public spaces workplaces or vehicles.
“The approach is guided by the provincial experience with alcohol and tobacco and by public health (precautionary) principles which aim to protect our youth as well as the public from second-hand smoke and vapour” read documents from Kulendran’s presentation.
Marijuana in Ontario will be sold through free-standing stores called Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation which is a subsidiary of the LCBO.
There are to be 40 stores by July 80 by the end of the year and 150 by the end of 2020. Both Lindsay and Peterborough are scheduled to get pot shops.
There will also be an online channel where Ontarians can order marijuana on the Internet.
Sales of marijuana outside of the OCRC will remain illegal.
“The Cannabis Act prohibits any person from selling or distributing cannabis other than the Ontario
Retail Corporations or persons authorized under applicable federal law” the presentation reads. “The act would also prohibit landlords from knowingly permitting such activities on their premises.”
“In order to address illegal storefronts the act provides an interim closure authority which would allow for the immediate closure by police upon charges being laid of premises that are suspected of being used for the illegal sale or distribution of cannabis.”
Enforcement is a big piece of what seems like is going to be a complicated puzzle for municipalities.
“We talked about it at the CPAC (community policing advisory committee) meeting” Moffatt told the paper. “It could increase workload which increases costs which increases taxes.”
Police officers throughout the province will need to be trained on new laws.
Moffatt said there is some grey area about just whom will be responsible for enforcement if there is a report of someone smoking marijuana somewhere they’re not supposed to.
“Are people going to call the police?” she said. “Or are they going to call bylaw?”
Moffatt anticipates there may be a spike in marijuana-related calls.
“It’s an issue when the public has polarized opinions” she said.
Enforcement aside there will also be implications for municipalities from a land use planning perspective.
County residents may wish to apply for the creation of production facilities for instance Moffatt noted. This will have ramifications for local governments in the way of zoning licensing and choosing locations.
The possibilities of fires at such facilities creates the possibility of increased demand on municipal fire departments.
Overall Moffatt said she thinks legalization may be socially problematic but potentially economically beneficial for those who get involved in what will be a new business.
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has been lobbying the province to help cover the costs of marijuana legalization for municipalities as well as share a portion of marijuana tax revenues with municipal governments.
According to AMO the legalization of pot could add as much as $80 million a year to collective police force budgets in the province each year.
“Sharing part of the cannabis tax revenue with municipal governments will help ensure that the new industry benefits local communities” said AMO president Lynn Dollin in a press release.
The specifics around implementation funding remain unclear.
“Municipalities are critical partners in the implementation of the cannabis retail and distribution system” reads documentation from Kulendran’s presentation. “Ontario has and will continue to directly engage with municipalities on funding to help address the incremental costs of implementation.
“In January the Ministry of Finance sent a letter to all municipal heads of council to communicate Ontario’s interest to begin engaging with municipalities on a reasonable distribution of the province’s share of the federal excise tax revenue. The Ministry of Finance is working with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the City of Toronto on the engagement process.”