TORONTO – Mayors across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area came to Premier Kathleen Wynne Tuesday looking for advice on how to handle the transition to legalized recreational marijuana with less than a year to go before the law changes.
But Wynne said despite introducing Ontario’s legalization framework earlier this month, the provincial government is still working to answer key questions about the proposed rules, including where stores will be located, how enforcement will be handled and the kind of resources that will flow to municipalities.
“The challenges are complex, right from the siting of stores to the enforcement in public spaces,” Wynne said. “We need to make sure that as resources flow to municipalities, which they will have to do, we want to make sure they get to the right level of government.”
Wynne says some of the questions raised could be answered during a fall summit planned with police agencies to discuss enforcement. While municipalities are looking to the province for answers, there are still many questions the province has for the federal government before recreational marijuana is legalized next summer, she said.
“The conversations (between) the municipalities and the province mirrors the conversation that we’re having with the federal government,” she said. “We don’t have all the information that we need.”
The federal government introduced legislation in April with a goal of legalizing and regulating the use of recreational pot by July 1, 2018, but left it up to individual provinces to design their own distribution system and usage regulations.
Ontario’s Liberal government was the first province out of the gate earlier this month with its plan to sell recreational marijuana in as many as 150 dedicated stores run by the province’s liquor control board and setting the legal age to buy the drug at 19. Consumption of legal weed will not be allowed in public spaces or workplaces and will be confined to private residences under Ontario’s proposed legislation.
The new regulations will also contain language allowing police to confiscate small amounts of pot from those under 19 without incurring criminal charges.
Toronto Mayor John Tory, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said he’s concerned municipalities will have to bear the cost of enforcing the new laws while the province will score the windfall of lower costs to the provincial court system as marijuana prosecutions disappear.
Tory wrote Wynne earlier this summer and asked that the city not be forced to shoulder the costs of legalization and raised concerns about community safety and public health.
“One of the key points I will be stressing as we work out these details is that we need this financial support at the beginning of legalization, whether the province has collected any money from the sale of marijuana or not,” Tory said in a statement.
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said the Liberal government has rushed its legalization framework and has not addressed community safety concerns. Leaders in the policing community have said there will be new costs associated with legalization, he added.
“I want to make sure the police have the resources to do their job and keep your streets safe,” Brown said. “There will be a combination of police who are dealing with this, whether it’s OPP or local police, municipalities can’t handle this burden on their own.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the Liberal government has created a “piecemeal” plan that hasn’t answered vital questions.
“Time is ticking,” she said. “There’s no doubt that there are a lot more questions than there are answers. Those questions have been coming from law enforcement, municipalities, they’ve been coming from every day people, to try to figure out what the government’s plan is.”