A HAZY CLOUD OF CONFUSION STILL FACES CANADIAN MUNICIPALITIES
On December 11th, 2017 the Canadian Federal Government announced that it will release 75% of the cannabis excise tax revenues to help support the other orders of government that are on the front lines of legalizing cannabis nationwide.
That will spark the next debate (and will be interpreted differently) by Provinces, Territories, First Nations and Municipalities as to where the burden of implementation is transferred when it comes to the costs of enforcing this impending legislation. Similarly, where the benefits are actually realized will be debated.
Still shrouded in secrecy is whether the federal government provided up-front funds to assist the other orders of government in developing their own legislation or to assist in paying for communications to the organizations that must ultimately help administer the changes made to Canadian laws, societal norms and to the economy in general.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) is calling for a strong partnership among all orders of government. Now, does the FCM, or indeed the municipalities it represents across Canada, legitimately believe that a strong partnership can possibly be developed within the next 100 days, given the historic mal-treatment of municipalities by the other two orders of government? Even amongst municipalities, the Canadian Big City Caucus will no doubt advocate to their respective Premiers that it is they (the big cities) who carry the largest burden.
This is a money battle yet to play itself out. The dividing of money is a problem that the federal government has easily downloaded onto the provinces. The dividing of it with municipalities will be a battlefield in 2018.
There also remains further dialogue that must take place between the Federal Government and the countrys First Nation leaders. It has been the position of principle by the Assembly of First Nations that it will be the First Nations and not the federal, territorial or provincial governments that will determine the rules around the use and sale of cannabis products on reserves.
During the summer of 2017, Albertas mid-sized cities received a summary of interviews and heard from several mid-sized city mayors from the state of Colorado. Colorado has been an early leader in the US on cannabis legislation and its impact on communities.
The results of those interviews revealed more than 20 significant considerations that Canadian municipalities need to assess as the downloading of responsibilities of this federal initiative begins. The details of those considerations were substantial. They included such things as zoning, signage regulations, setbacks from schools, distances from daycares and dealing with an unexpected number of rental properties being converted to substantial grow operations for the below market price street market.
School and health authorities found themselves having to address edibles at school, and increases in emergency room activity in hospitals. Although data are slow to be reported, anecdotally there is an increase of youth court activity being experienced in Colorado for a variety of reasons. Examples reported were the advent of new phenomena of brownie parties for youth, and pill parties for older teens.
In Canada, some of those municipal considerations will overlap with provincial considerations, some will overlap with agency jurisdictions (police and fire) and there will be overlap with the school and health jurisdictions as experienced in Colorado. Perhaps schools are being ignored, or at worst being forgotten, in this entire conversation.
The Colorado experiences (and now in several other US states) are coming to grips with the implication of the legalization and state decriminalization of cannabis/marijuana products. Products sold as edibles, vape products and old-fashioned joint smoking are creating a gold rush of opportunities, some of which were not contemplated by US lawmakers at the time of the conception.
In Canada, that rush to city hall to obtain a new cultivating permit will be met with excitement by many. But, health professionals, law enforcement personnel, school teachers and the first responders will all be wondering what the affect is on their day to day activities. And parents will be weighing the opportunity of purchases, growing decisions and personal usage against the risk of their own childs well being.
It is also seen by many that there is a blurred line between the medicinal industry and the recreational industry. To some it is clear that there is a pure distinction–and the law delineates some of that distinction. To others, there is undoubtedly confusion created by the variety of products, and a blur exists determining whether the intended use is for recreation to relax or to simply kill the arthritis pain.
The development of public policy, and indeed private corporate policy, is left to many who do not have the knowledge or wherewithal to pull it off. Whether it is policy development by condominium associations across Canada, seniors residences or post- secondary student matters, there is much work to be done.
Here are a few more important issues that remain to be debated:
*The merits of the new legislation, as various governments and jurisdictions grapple with what local or regional policy structures may look like.
*Provinces must address the approach to storage plus sales and distribution of various cannabis products, division of tax revenues, health concerns and more.
*Municipalities are faced with permit decisions, signage restrictions, bylaw changes, training, employee drug testing policies and much more.
*Law enforcement agencies will need to develop new protocols and procedures.
Much of this is being done in a vacuum of knowledge, a shortage of skills and a lack of funding from the federal government to do the right job–or to do the job right.
Canadians in all walks of life will come across new policies and procedures that are affected by this. Indeed most of those policies are yet to be developed. Schools, emergency rooms, first responder vehicles, public recreation complexes and hospice care facilities will all face the question of what equipment to carry or what procedure to have in place.
In some cases, Canadians will become informed by chance, others through involvement by their own circumstances, while others will work to become involved in helping write those very policies as they experience a new modus operandi for their own set of circumstances.
Opportunities abound. From air conditioning installers to the lighting industry to the ventilation market, there will be some who are able to capitalize on the new openness of cannabis as a societal norm.
Much of what was underground money will now end up in the coffers of the Canadian banks. That is one of the fundamental reasons for Prime Minister Trudeau and the federal Liberals embarking on this generational legislative change. One can only hope it results in the intended consequences.
Just as it has taken nearly a century for Canadians and Americans to come to grips with the upside and downside of marijuana, it may very well take many more years to establish the effects of these changes being made across North America.
Finally, there is the argument as to whether there is actually more money entering the economy in the first place (as a result of the legalization) as is claimed by some, or is the limited supply of consumer money simply being shifted from one area of spending to another–the cannabis money shell game? This writer thinks the latter.
As I prepare to speak in August on this topic at the 14th Annual Global Conference on Ageing in Toronto, if you have any thoughts on this matter, please email me at nolan.