Deadline approaching for pot opt-out
One of the first decisions that the new councils of Haliburton County’s townships, and the upper-tier council of the county, will have to make in the term is whether they want to opt out of allowing marijuana stores within their boundaries.
Cannabis was legalized across the country in October, and in Ontario, the provincial government is selling marijuana by mail, while allowing private businesses to set up physical store locations. Municipal governments have until Jan. 22 to decide if they want to opt out, or disallow marijuana shops from being opened within their jurisdictions.
“If you don’t make that decision, it’s assumed that you opt in,” Lisa Kaldeway, a health promotor with the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit, told county councillors during a Nov. 28 meeting. “You can opt in at a later date by resolution, if you choose.”
If the upper tier council of Haliburton County chose to opt out, it would automatically mean that its four lower-tier municipalities would opt out as well. The health unit has prepared a document containing considerations regarding marijuana outlets that it will be sending to municipalities within its jurisdiction.
“First of all, I just want to preface this conversation with, the health unit is not recommending one option over the other, we’re just offering things to think about through a public health lens,” Kaldeway said.
One of those things is a minimum distance between marijuana outlets and sensitive locations such as mental health and addiction services sites, vendor outlets for other substances such as alcohol, and schools.
The health unit believes the minimum distance of 150 metres between an outlet and schools is not sufficient.
Marijuana stores may have hours of 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., which will match the increased operating hours of LCBO outlets.
Through municipal cannabis policy statements, municipalities have the opportunity to create minimum setbacks for themselves. Other considerations, such as areas of permitted use, can also be addressed through municipal bylaws.
Under the basic provincial regulations, marijuana smoking is to be permitted in areas where tobacco smoking is permitted, a point of concern for the health unit, since unlike tobacco, marijuana is an intoxicating substance and people within the vicinity of someone who is smoking marijuana can be affected.
There will be implications for municipalities, such as planning and zoning considerations, as well as bylaw enforcement, although the main responsibility for enforcement has been assigned by the province to health units.
The HKPR District Health Unit has two smoking enforcement officers, and no additional funding is being supplied by the province to deal with the increased portfolio.
“So, it’s basically the same crew taking this on, and adding to existing responsibilities,” Kaldeway said, adding this would mean that enforcement would be reactive rather than proactive.
Health units will also be co-operating with other agencies to provide educational programming in schools on the risks of marijuana use.
The provincial government has earmarked $40 million in funding over two years for municipalities to assist with implementation costs. There are 440 municipalities in the province. In the case of the upper tier of Haliburton County, it should receive about $30,000 in provincial funding, and each of its lower tiers at least $5,000.
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt said that legalization has been a topic of discussion at meetings of the county’s community policing advisory committee, where it’s been agreed that whatever approach is taken locally, the county’s four municipalities should be aligned.
“Some of the unanswered questions are getting answered, but there’s still lots of them,” said Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin.
“I’m glad that it’s clarified that, principally, the enforcement is not a municipal jurisdiction,” Devolin said.
As for the level of funding from the province, “it’s a joke,” Devolin said. “In terms of what the cost is, it’s a joke. It’s not going to begin to cover this.”