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Municipalities, school boards prepare for cannabis legalization

by Jaime Myslik

WELLINGTON CTY. - This is the final instalment of a four-part series on cannabis legalization and its potential impacts in and around Wellington County.

With cannabis legalization just a week away, there are still many metaphorical balls in the air when it comes to law, policy and responsibility.

Click here for a .pdf of responses by mayoral candidates within Wellington County.

Municipalities

Under new provincial rules surrounding cannabis, private stores will be allowed in cities and towns across Ontario starting April 1.

However, municipalities will only have until Jan. 22 to decide whether to allow a business to set up within their jurisdiction.

With the municipal election on Oct. 22 and inaugural meetings set for December, new councils and mayors won’t have much time to make the decision.

“The simple reality is, people are consuming cannabis,” said Cannabis Council of Canada executive director Allan Rewak. “This is not about creating a new market place.”

He said 15 to 25 per cent of the population is already consuming cannabis in some way. 

“We’re legalizing it and bringing this out of the shadows and into the sunlight will disinfect it from those criminal elements that may be involved today,” he said.

“So to any mayor, municipal councillor or candidate who’s looking at this issue and expressing concern about bricks and mortar, all this will do is end criminality in your community and give you a means to better control and regulate this product and make sure that kids aren’t accessing it.”

Of the 15 candidates running for mayor across Wellington County only Wellington North’s Ray Tout said he’d support a cannabis store in his municipality at the present time.

“The biggest issue in our society is fentanyl,” Tout said. “The abuse of fentanyl use more than cannabis ... with licensed dispensaries it should control it on the street and in the market, away from our youth.”

While many mayoral candidates said they needed more information and public consultation before deciding on a cannabis store, Dennis Lever of Puslinch and David Wolk of Guelph-Eramosa said they are opposed to the idea.

“No, I would not support a cannabis store in Puslinch at this time,” Lever said. “I view this as similar to a beer or LCBO outlet and we don’t really have a retail space that would accommodate this type of facility.

“I would expect anyone looking for these products would be more likely to visit Guelph or Cambridge, as they do now for alcohol.”

Wolk also said the zoning in Guelph-Eramosa isn’t appropriate.

“The retailing of cannabis could only be done in a commercial zone,” Wolk said. “In our township this would generally mean having a store in the Rockwood business area which would be close to elementary schools and parks.

“I would not be in favour of such a store in our municipality.”

Rewak said allowing the stores would be good for jobs and the economy.

“If you want less kids to access cannabis in your community underage, if you want to take a step against organized crime, if you want to be aware of control and better regulate this product, well there’s no reason to opt out, especially if you want to create good local jobs,” Rewak said.

Bylaws

Another item to consider for municipalities is bylaw regulation.

Under the new cannabis rules there are a number of public places where cannabis can be smoked or vaped as of Oct. 17. However, each of those regulations can contain additional restrictions in municipal bylaws, which vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

“We’ll have to work with municipalities,” said Wellington County OPP Inspector Scott Lawson. “We’ll have to know what the bylaws are, we’ll have to work with them to enforce those bylaws.

“Not all of them, smaller municipalities, have bylaw enforcement that will enforce it themselves.”

Increased manpower will also be a consideration for municipal services like police and fire, a consideration that will likely impact  future budget discussions.

Wellington County fire training officer Charles Hamilton and Centre Wellington Fire and Rescue fire prevention officer Chris Paluch said they anticipate more vehicle collision calls for firefighters, emergency medical services and police.

“We going to see more MVCs and accidents related to the use ... because it’s now legal,” Hamilton said. “It’s going to multiply probably the number of calls you go out on, so do you start wearing the guys out a little bit? I think that’s a concern.

“It’s going to have an expense component that the more we go out the more it costs the community, because everybody’s paid on calls.”

More calls for impaired accidents could also increase first responders’ risk of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to exposure to more gruesome accidents.

“PTSD affects individuals differently,” Hamilton said. “Some can handle larger amounts of it and not be affected. (Some), it may take a little bit and they get pushed to the edge and they need some help.

“So I think there’s an aspect of that that’s going to come out of it as we see more road related problems.”

Hamilton said there are supports for emergency responders in each organization.

Fire departments, emergency medical services and OPP all offer peer support groups as well as access to mental health facilities and to one-on-one support.

School boards

Both the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) and the Wellington Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) are preparing for legalization day next week.

Representatives from both boards state that regardless of changes to laws and policies on public use, cannabis will remain prohibited on school grounds after Oct. 17.

WCDSB assistant superintendent of education Tim Yawney said the Safe Schools policy, which is included in the Education Act, will be updated shortly to reflect the legalization of cannabis.

Those who are in possession of cannabis will face possible suspension, the same as if they were caught carrying alcohol or illegal drugs.

He noted that being under the influence of cannabis will be added to the list of activities that could lead to suspension, just like alcohol. Giving cannabis to a minor could also lead to suspension or expulsion.

Yawney said updates to the Smoke Free Ontario Act would also influence school policies.

“It includes outdoor spaces, sidewalks and parks,” he said. “Typically speaking, when students are smoking cigarettes they are permitted to smoke cigarettes off of our school property. So you’ll see them in front of high schools where they are on the sidewalk smoking cigarettes.

“What Bill 36 says is they’re going to be permitted to smoke, vape, or smoke cannabis as long as they’re 19 years of age.

“The other piece that’s in there now is they must be at least 20 metres from school property, which changes where the students must be.”

However, he said even if students are legally permitted to smoke cannabis off school property, they are not permitted to go to school impaired.

UGDSB spokesperson Heather Loney said, “Regardless of whether a drug is legal or illegal, the board and schools in the board recognize that the consumption of alcohol and drugs by students can impair their health and well being and can also interfere with their ability to learn and function in society.”

She added, “So it is something that is top of mind previously, before the announcement of legalization and also that will still continue.

“We feel it’s important to teach students about the affects of substances like cannabis, alcohol and illicit drugs and a lot of the work that goes on in our schools in terms of our healthy schools initiative we want kids to be able to make informed decisions and healthy decisions.”

Both boards emphasized that they have supports in place for students who are dealing with addiction or substance abuse.

“One thing that these staff will be doing that’s different now is really trying to increase the general awareness about the risks and harms of cannabis use,” Loney said.

“And then also part of our procedures which we’ll continue is the administration of progressive discipline with the goal of protecting health, safety and wellbeing of all students.”

Progressive discipline uses proactive measures, interventions, supports and consequences to promote positive behaviours, she explained.

“If a staff member is concerned that a student might be struggling with an addiction, a possible intervention could be connecting that student to the school’s social worker, or connecting them with Community Addictions Services,” said Loney.

Yawney said the Catholic board also has a curriculum that includes methods to develop positive ways of coping with substances.

Leading up to Oct. 17 the board will be posting a letter on each school website to identify supports available to students concerning the legalization of cannabis.

One resource is the videos produced by Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health that use local students and will go live on Oct. 14 at www.talkingaboutweed.ca.

“It’s designed for youth, by youth and provides accurate, balanced, information to stimulate meaningful conversations about the legalization of cannabis so it’s really nicely done,” Yawney said.

There will also be awareness posters throughout the schools as a resource for students, staff and parents.

“So parents who come in will be able to see them and it’s about engaging their children in meaningful conversations about cannabis - but in particular about healthy choices,” Yawney said.

He added staff would also be provided with tools to facilitate constructive conversations about cannabis and to refer students to the necessary resources to help when they end up in crisis.

As the Oct. 17 legalization of marijuana approaches, stakeholders throughout the community may struggle to adapt and mould to the new normal.

Only time will tell if all the preparation was enough.

October 12, 2018

 
 

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