Regional communities grapple with impending marijuana legalization

From left: Bob Nault, Kenora MP, ?Dr. Kit Young Hoon, Medical Officer of Health for the Northwestern Health Unit, Sean Monteith, Director of Education for the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board, and Matt Norlock, Acting Staff Sargent with the OPP detachment in Red Lake, during Saturday morning’s cannabis legislation Q & A. Photo submitted

By Jennifer Parsons

With the legalization of marijuana just around the corner, municipal and regional leaders say they have continuing concerns over how the federal and provincial governments plan to keep the substance out of the hands of young people and keep residents safe. 

Bill C-45, legislation that will allow adults to possess and use small amounts of recreational marijuana legally is currently in front of the Senate of Canada with the federal government expecting implementation on July 1, 2018.

On Feb. 3 MP Bob Nault met with Kenora District Municipal Association members to discuss the details of the impending legislation and participate in a roundtable discussion on the impact it will have on Northwestern Ontario. 

“The current approach, we have said this over and over again, we believe is not working which is why we are legalizing, regulating and restricting access to cannabis,” Nault told those gathered in Ear Falls last Saturday. “Laws that are changed federally, provincially or municipally are generally changed because people are asking for it and expect you to change with the times.”
Pickle Lake Mayor Karl Hopf says he thinks the legislation is going down the wrong avenue and questions whether it is right “to normalize the social behaviour on the basis of economics”.
“I think the premise [of this argument] is entirely wrong. The idea that 20-30 per cent of the population should be able to dictate a form of entering laws or issue edicts to the other 70 per cent defies the whole principle of democracy as far as I am concerned,” he stated during the discussion, also expressing his scepticism that the legislation, that offers stiff penalties for engaging minors and sets a minimum age of consumption, will prevent or discourage youth from using the product. 
“There is no child at 16 years old that is going to say ‘well it’s legal when I am 18 so I am not going to smoke any drugs or buy any drugs illegally. I am going to wait until I am 18 because it is legal’. Not going to happen.”
During the roundtable discussion Director of Education for the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board Sean Monteith shared insight into the youth component of the discussion noting that from his experience,  “kids will do what kids want to do.” 
“That is something that adults need to wrap their heads around,” said Montieth noting from an education and parenting perspective the legislation has posed large, problematic questions that have yet to be answered. 
“Too many big question marks going into this are highly problematic. I worry about control… I worry about how the narrative of legalizing pot and possession of cannabis in schools will detract from the narrative that I am trying to stay on which is to get kids through high school.”
Municipal leaders also questioned the enforcement and treatment side of the issue posing questions to Dr. Kit Young-Hoon and A/Staff Sargent Matt Norlock, who also participated in the panel discussion. 
“The main problem with criminalization from a public health perspective is that you can’t control the product,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kit Young-Hoon. “It is still an illegal product. It is still on the black market so there is no way of controlling the standardization of the product, making sure it is produced in a safe way.”
Norlock added that a new oral road side test, although being piloted in Canada, has not yet been approved for use of the Ontario Provincial Police by the Attorney General. 
“I can’t adequately say that we are prepared to deal with that come July,” declared Norlock responding to concerns over an anticipated increase of impaired by drug scenarios. He added officers are prepared to continue using approved field sobriety techniques and trained officers that are resident in each detachment.   


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