Still many unanswered questions for pot legalization
By Chad Ingram
Published July 5, 2018
A little more than three months before marijuana is set to become legal across the country, it’s clear there remain numerous unanswered questions for law enforcement officials and local governments alike.
Staff Sgt. Liane Spong visited Haliburton County council during its June 27 meeting.
The legalization of cannabis, introduced through the federal Cannabis Act, has legislative implications both federally, with an overhaul of the Criminal Code, for example, and provincially, with the introduction of omnibus legislation known as the Ontario Cannabis Act, and amendments to other legislation, such as the Highway Traffic Act.
“Definitely, there’s going to be legal implications,” Spong told councillors. “First and foremost, our officers must understand both the new federal and provincial legislation related to their authority, and offences that will be put into place.”
As Spong explained, the OPP has created a cannabis committee, made of up several of its bureaus and units, to focus on the operational impacts of the legislation, and a cannabis working group to study how the change may impact officers and staff.
“If I may, I would like to speak from the position of CPAC [the county’s Community Policing Advisory Committee], as the chair of CPAC,” said Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt.
Moffatt said the committee had discussed the impending legalization of cannabis, set to take effect Oct. 18, and that there were myriad concerns about potential impacts for municipalities.
“There’s potential to increase municipal workloads, but because the OPP has a very integral role in the whole thing, that, I think it’s important for us, as municipalities, not to work in silos around any changes,” Moffatt said.
“There’s potential increased costs for policing, in terms of police calls for service as we transition to the new landscape,” Moffatt said, adding there could be implications to the fire code and firefighter safety.
“There’s definitely an impact for bylaw, zoning enforcement at the municipal level, planners . . . ” she continued.
Moffatt questioned if the county should create a working group.
“Should we have some sort of working group amongst the planners, CAOs and relevant department heads as needed . . . working with the OPP . . . so we have a uniform landscape across the county?”
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin said he thought that was a great idea. Devolin said there were also a number of specific questions that still had haven’t been answered.
For example, legislation is to limit the number of marijuana plants people can have to four per household. Devolin wondered whose responsibility it would be to enforce such regulations.
“Who has the primary responsibility of managing the number of plants per ... household . . . from the OPP’s perspective, whose primary responsibility is that?” Devolin asked. “Is it the municipality or the OPP?”
“I would expect that what will happen for the OPP, is that we’ll receive a call for service, we’ll receive a complaint about another neighbour . . . and then the OPP’s responsibility is to enforce the law,” Spong said.
“You’ll only be responding, in that sense, in a call for service?” Devolin said.
“Correct, in an enforcement capacity,” Spong replied.
“So, it’s a municipal responsibility,” Devolin said.
Moffatt said it was these types of questions that would be integral moving forward.
“I think there’s a massive public education strategy around making sure that the right concerns get to the right people,” she said. “We still have a muddy world of who the right people are, so we need to ask those exact kind of questions of ourselves, of the OPP, of other levels of government, to clarify what the public needs to do, and what we need to do.”
“At the end of the day, that’s what we’re doing with the OPP as well,” Spong said. “That’s why we have the working group, that’s why we have the other committee.”
Dysart et al Mayor Murray Fearrey pointed out that municipal bylaw officers can only enter residences they’ve been invited into.
“Our bylaw people can’t go into anybody’s house who denies them,” Fearrey said. “So, I guess if I had six plants, and bylaw knocked at the door, I’d say no. So that’s how that’s going to be dealt with. We’re not very well-prepared, are we?”
Devolin wondered if the OPP’s committee and working group were interacting with municipal representatives in the province.
“Is there any interface with either municipal politicians, or AMO [the Association of Municipalities of Ontario], or whatever, because in every community in Ontario we don’t want an ad hoc approach to how we roll this out,” he said.
Devolin added that while the specific legalization date was only recently announced, everyone’s known for a year a half the transition has been coming, and that there should have been ongoing conversations.
Spong said the OPP had been working with the provincial government and a number of associations, and she couldn’t speak directly to AMO, but would relay the feedback to OPP command.
“I agree that there should be continued work with AMO, through AMO, with ROMA [Rural Ontario Municipal Association],” said Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen, who sits on the ROMA board. “I think in fairness to the detachment commander and to AMO and ROMA, there’s been a lot of questions that have not been answered for anybody. It’s hard to do anything concrete when you don’t have any information we can see. I think there are still a lot of unknowns for everyone concerned.”
Moffatt said the lack of information didn’t mean the county shouldn’t be figuring out a system.
“I don’t want us to sit and say, you know, we’re waiting for direction from the higher-ups,” she said. “I think we need to do something now, so at least our own staff has some idea of how to pass the ball back and forth for the impending questions. People are going to call somebody when their neighbour is smoking weed on their patio . . . it’s no different than drinking beer on the patio, except there’s more of an odour of it, and those calls are going to come . . . and we need to know what to do with it, or just face more criticism for doing nothing.”
Devolin said municipalities would require substantial funding to deal with the ramifications of legalization. While it is known that 75 per cent of marijuana revenues will go to the provinces and 25 per cent to the feds, it is unclear how much funding municipalities might receive.
Devolin said the lion’s share of the provincial portion should go to municipal governments.
“For us to ramp up for what’s coming, this is real money and real resources, and we don’t remotely have the dough to do this,” he said. “We need our share of the dough and we need it now. We need to know before the year’s out.”
It was agreed that county chief administrative officer Mike Rutter would convene a meeting with the CAOs of the county’s four lower-tier townships.