As the July 1 deadline for the federal government’s plan to legalize marijuana looms, many questions remain about how the province is going to implement that legislation.
At a town hall meeting held Friday at the Da Vinci Centre by Bill Mauro, MPP for Thunder Bay-Atikokan, residents and stakeholders had the chance to ask questions and raise concerns.
Addressing the crowd of close to 30 people, resident Martin Tempelman expressed his disappointment that the federal government decided to legalize cannabis.
“Twenty years from now I want each of us to look back and say ‘was that a good decision?’” said Tempelman.
“I have friends who are alcoholics and know people who have lost everything over a bottle of booze. What makes us think that legalizing cannabis is going to be any better for these people?”
Tempelman added his voice to resident Keith Ritchie who condemned the provincial government for not standing up to the federal government and saying no to the legislation.
“I never heard one disagreement at all by any provincial politician,” said Ritchie. “There was no dispute, they just rolled over and let the feds come in and say July 1 is going to be a new law. There’s no kick-up about it at all, it’s just not fair.”
While the decision to legalize cannabis came from the federal level of government, Mauro said it is up to the provincial governments to implement the legislation.
“Within five months we have to be ready to deal with the issues connected to the legalization of cannabis, so the provinces have a large role to play in this now,” said Mauro.
Mauro explained that Thunder Bay will be one of the first 40 cities in the province to have a stand-alone store as of July 1, which will be run by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.
Representatives from various organizations in town including the Salvation Army, the Thunder Bay Drug Strategy, the city, and school boards, raised concerns about enforcement and the exposure to second-hand smoke of people living in apartment buildings and condominiums.
Mauro explained that there are still some issues that need to be clarified, but was clear that Ontario will deal with cannabis in much the same way it deals with alcohol. It will be illegal for anyone under 19 and not to be consumed in public places.
“I don’t think we should interpret legalization with endorsement of use,” said Mauro.
Jeff Upton, education officer with Lakehead Public Schools and public chair of the Crime Prevention Council, said he appreciated Mauro’s comment.
“Just because legalization is occurring and all these other factors are coming into play there is no endorsement of the use of cannabis,” said Upton. “But we have to put all these protective factors that are harm reduction factors into play for children and youth.”
Harm reduction, education, and enforcement are all part of the implementation plan, explained Mauro. With provinces getting 75 per cent of any tax revenue and the federal government getting 25 per cent, Mauro said any money would go back in to enforcement and education.
“From an education side of things, we’re happy to see they’re taking some proactive steps around the education act,” said Upton. “That they’re very focused with regards to children and youth safety.”
Upton explained that he is confident in the regulations that are being put in place because of his colleagues in the community.
“Just within the city of Thunder Bay we have 45 to 50 different community partners at those tables. I’m confident the people at the table will take the laws, the rules and regulations and will apply them appropriately,” said Upton. “I trust the people in this community will make it work to reduce harm and provide safety to our community and we will do things that are positive, progressive and forward thinking.”