Let’s Talk Pot – Ward 33 E-Blast October 26th

Last weekend, the Trustees of the Toronto District School Board made a splash across all news outlets by expressing concerns about the upcoming legalization of non-medicinal marijuana. They want a say in how the new provincially regulated LCBO-operated marijuana stores will be located.

There is good news: Municipalities want a real say in these locations as well. This is why Toronto asked for a sales model that would be more or less exactly like the one that is being rolled out in July 2018. Some people have worried about legalization since the Federal Government announced their intentions. Certainly all other government levels, municipal included, have worried about what our direct responsibilities will be. Over the past few months since the Province announced how Ontario will follow the federal rules and allow sales, media discussion has confused the issue. This may be why the School Board concerns grew.

Marijuana for medicinal purposes is legal right now, with a prescription. There are a number of properly licensed, doctor-supervised places to fill prescriptions. There is one on Don Mills not far outside Ward 33. These are called dispensaries. However, there are also some stores that claim to be dispensaries, but are not. They are quite rightly being raided by police. This is as it should be. By next summer, only one kind of non-medicinal retail store will be legal. Illegal operators need to be out of the way if the regulated model is to succeed in doing away with illegal trade altogether.

When the Province announced its model for retail sales, it was clear they had taken to heart the wish list of conditions that I heard when the Attorney General’s Office consulted with us, the City.

Here are some highlights of where we came to a consensus during that consultation:

1) There will be online sales of non-medicinal marijuana, but provincial regulation will require in-person delivery with specific forms of ID required to receive. No packages left on doorsteps. These online sales will also be managed by the LCBO.

2) Retail stores will be run by the LCBO, because there is already a training system that has an excellent reputation for ensuring rigorous identification of minors in place in liquor stores. These same human resource programs can be adapted to train staff for the stand-alone marijuana stores.

3) Based on parental input, edible forms of marijuana will not be initially included in legal retail sale. While we experience the first few years of legalization, and discover how prevalent edibles will be, we will protect children from those types of temptations.

TDSB Board Chair Robin Pilkey

4) There are a number of reasons to keep the liquor store separate from the pot store, and the most important one directly addresses the concerns school trustees are voicing on behalf of parents right now. The free standing stores are being opened gradually, 40 for the whole province in 2018, 80 in 2019, and finally 150 in 2020. If the sale of marijuana was provided in existing liquor stores, there would be tremendous pressure to allow sales in all 660 existing LCBO stores.

The key here is to provide fair access to eliminate the illegal market, but not so rapidly that proper adherence to the regulations can’t be guaranteed.

5) One of the reasons that choosing the LCBO to run the new retail marijuana stores was good news for cities is that we can work closely with a government partner to agree on safe locations. We have had a good track record with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission on appealing where licensed bars and liquor stores are located. The sales model proposed allows us to use the same sort of appeals mechanism to locate the regulated marijuana stores, starting with the first 40 in July 2018.

Currently there are dozens of illegal pot stores, because it is relatively easy to rent a retail storefront and set up shop. By the time it becomes clear that the tenant has opened a store to sell marijuana illegally it takes unreasonable amounts to police and court dollars to shut them down. That is easier to stop using the model I’ve described above.

Some bottom line statements:

1) The decision to legalize marijuana has been fully made, and a great deal of work in most every city and Province is already well underway to prepare.

2) In Ontario, cities and their police services are already working to reduce and eliminate the illegal market as the regulated legal sales are gearing up.

3) The federal government has allowed us all to go slow. Smoking marijuana will only be legal inside private places. We need to know impacts before proceeding to legalize public consumption, no matter what the conditions.

4) In my view there are urgent reasons to proceed. We know the data shows that in Toronto, young men of colour are over-represented in being incarcerated and becoming criminalized due to minor marijuana use arrests. We need them to be in schools, not jails. The most important data of all shows that in American cities, where opioids and particularly fentanyl addictions and overdoses are epidemic, the cities with legalized marijuana have much lower opioid addiction and overdose statistics. There is a potential to save lives here in Toronto.

Legal marijuana is coming to Canada and Ontario and Toronto are working hard to be prepared for when it does.