Let's Talk About Pot forum at Chatham-Kent council. June 11, 2018. (Photo by Sarah Cowan Blackburn News Chatham-Kent).

Chatham-Kent Tackles Issues Surrounding Pot Legalization

Key municipal officials are addressing the issues Chatham-Kent will face if marijuana becomes legal.

At Monday night’s council meeting, administration held a public forum about how the municipality plans to handle the legalization of marijuana.

Five panellists hosted the forum and spoke about a variety of different topics. The speakers included officials from Health & Family Services, Planning Services, the Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit, Chatham-Kent Police Service, and Human Resources.

The Legislation 

On December 12, 2017, the province passed legislation in response to the federal cannabis legislation Bill C-45. These provincial pieces of legislation include the 2017 Cannabis Act and the 2017 Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation Act.

The three key priorities of both acts are to protect youth and young people, ensure community and road safety, and eliminate the illegal cannabis market.

Ontario’s 2017 Cannabis Act prohibits the sale of recreational cannabis to anyone under the age of 19. It also prohibits the use of recreational marijuana in all public places, motor vehicles, and workplaces. Under the act, youth under 19 won’t be allowed to possess, cultivate, consume, or share any amount of recreational cannabis.

It is expected the 2017 Cannabis Act will come into effect when the federal legislation passes. On Thursday, Bill C-45 passed its third reading at the Senate.

How Much Can I Have? 

Under both the proposed federal Cannabis Act and Ontario’s legislation, adults could possess up to 30 grams of legal cannabis. Adults would be allowed to grow up to four cannabis plants per residence for personal use from seedlings or seeds. The Cannabis Act would also decriminalize youth possession of up to five grams.

Where Can I Smoke? 

There is also the 2017 Smoke-Free Ontario Act that prohibits the smoking and vaping of cannabis in public places, enclosed workplaces, playgrounds, municipal properties, municipal bus stops, sport fields, board walks, beaches, parks and walkways. Chatham-Kent enacted its own Smoke-Free Chatham-Kent In 2014, which prohibits the use and carrying of any lighted or heated cigar, cigarette, pipe, waterpipe, or any other equipment used to inhale, exhale, burn, or heat any smoking product in these areas.

Medical cannabis users won’t be able to smoke in enclosed workplaces and public places, motor vehicles, and smoke-free areas.

In Ontario, adults over the age 19 will only be able to use recreational marijuana in a private residence, including the outdoor space of a home like a porch or a backyard or in a multi-unit building like an apartment or condo depending on lease agreements and landlord rules.

Production Facilities 

Bruce McAllister, director of planning services, says production facilities will be permitted in employment and agriculture, as well as rural industrial areas, in Chatham-Kent. He says there will also be many different types of commercial producer licenses, such as standard cultivation, standard processing, and industrial hemp.

Where Will It Be Sold? 

Recreational marijuana will only be sold through the Ontario Cannabis Store (OSC) and website. There are 29 municipalities, including Chatham-Kent, that have been chosen to have stores in 2018.

Since the stores would be regulated by the province, the buildings would not be subject to local land use restrictions. However, McAllister says the stores would still adhere to the municipal zoning bylaws.

He says cannabis is currently not addressed in the Residential Tenants Act, so the landlord will have to address issues pertaining to cannabis use with their tenants.

Police Enforcement 

Sergeant Matt Stezycki with the Chatham-Kent Police Service says the average street value of marijuana is $10 to $20 per gram. He says once the drug hits the legal market, it will drop down to $8 to $9.

Stezycki says adults found in possession of over 30 grams of cannabis could be issued a $200 ticket. If adults are found with over 50 grams, they could be faced with criminal charges. Those found guilty of distributing or selling cannabis to youth could have more severe penalties, including jail time.

He says cannabis will be treated the same as alcohol and other drugs when it comes to impaired driving. Drivers found under the influence of marijuana could be subject to fines, suspensions, and/or jail time.

The sergeant says there are currently 22 officers trained in standard field sobriety and two officers trained as drug recognition experts in the police service. Public Safety Canada is also piloting a roadside detection device to test for cannabis.

Stezycki says the police service is prepared to train more people depending on the call volume during the first year of the drug’s legalization.

Marijuana and the Workplace 

Cathy Hoffman, chief human resource officer, says no recreational marijuana use will be permitted in the workplaces. Employees will also not allowed to be impaired by recreational marijuana at work. She says the definition of impairment is the use of alcohol or drugs, which negatively affects work performance.

According to Hoffman, recreational users won’t be protected under the Human Rights Commission. While medical marijuana users will have more rights, employers will be allowed to require identification and information about the worker’s medication.

Workplaces must also clearly define policies and rules for cannabis, types of impairment, and disciplinary actions.

Health Risks and Awareness 

Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit Program Manager Carina Caryn says there will be various provincial and federal campaigns warning about the health risks related to cannabis.

These campaigns will address preventing/delaying cannabis use in young adults, promoting awareness of health risks, developing new and updating existing programs and services to support prevention and harm reduction in young people, and training health care providers.

Locally, Chatham-Kent will continue with its Racing Against Drugs Program and Challenges, Beliefs, and Changes Program. It will also work with pregnant and breastfeeding mothers at the health unit.

Council Speaks

Mayor Randy Hope says his biggest concern is with edibles. He worries if a child may mistakenly bite into a brownie not knowing it’s laced with cannabis, but acknowledges that the municipality can only tackle so many issues at once.

“We can only educate so much,” he says. “People are going to experiment.”

Councillor Doug Sulman, who inspired the idea for the public forum, says “this is a great first step.” He says he looks forward to hearing more about the different policies department heads come up with before the drug is legalized.