Moving too quickly, lack of consultation and the gateway myth were some of the issues raised by local mayors during the latest United Counties of Prescott and Russell council meeting.
Council received a letter from the province’s Ministry of Finance updating the cannabis file and the effect of the coming legislation on municipalities.
In early November, the province selected 14 municipalities to host the first cannabis stores in the province, the closest to Prescott-Russell being in Ottawa.
The plan is to open 40 stores by legalization in July 2018 and to double that by 2019 so that there will be a total of 150 stand-alone stores by 2020. The stores will be operated through the Cannabis Control Board of Ontario, a subsidiary of the the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.
The Review reached out to the LCBO, asking if each municipality will be limited to one store or if there is a possibility of multiple stores in a single municipality. It referred The Review back to its website – set up to offer updates, which says, “Additional municipalities intended for stores by July 2018 will also be identified. Consumers in all regions of Ontario will have access to cannabis through an online channel.”
The initial number of stores is problematic in itself. As reported by VICE, that’s one store per 250,000 residents. Not only that, the nearest store would be about an hour away for Prescott-Russell residents furthest from Ottawa. Again as reported by VICE, “If you live in rural Ontario, are you driving 45 minutes into ‘town’ or waiting to have it mailed when you have a craving… or are you sticking with the guy down the road?” (i.e., these new cannabis stores likely won’t be shutting down any local black market.)
Moving too fast
Champlain Mayor and UCPR Warden Gary Barton said he had “mixed feelings” on the legalization of cannabis, and added, “We’re moving too quickly.”
“I don’t think we have in place any official monitoring situation right now,” he said.
A leaked document from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services essentially supports that point, and raises many others when it comes to enforcing rules about public consumption, growing and other grey areas. Police across the country have also asked for the July 2018 date to be pushed back.
“I’m disturbed that the federal government and the provincial government didn’t (consult) us at the municipal level, where the problems will have to be addressed,” said Hawkesbury Mayor Jeanne Charlebois.
There has been, and continues to be, consultation between the province and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).
The organization has outlined a number of implications for municipalities, including needing additional law enforcement resources, receiving tax revenue and, for rural areas, even allowing farmers to grow the crop.
It’s possible Prescott-Russell hasn’t been approached directly since it hasn’t yet been chosen to host the new cannabis stores.
During the meeting, Charlebois re-hashed a tired cannabis cliché of it being a gateway drug.
She referred to the Hawkesbury General Hospital’s new mental health and addictions centre, saying there are already “people waiting to get appointments” before explaining, “This is where it starts, light drugs and (people) move on to the heavier stuff.”
To break down the debate about cannabis being a gateway drug often revolves around correlation versus causation. It’s true there are links between cannabis use and heroin use, but nothing to support the notion that one is the direct result of the other. For example: Heroin users likely use a wide-range of drugs including cannabis, but not the other way around. And the same can be said about alcohol and tobacco.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse has a whole page dedicated to the subject. It shows THC has a “primer” effect in rats, which would lead to “enhanced responses to other drugs,” but it also says, “However, the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, ‘harder’ substances.”
However, there are other factors that can encourage drug abuse: poverty, trauma and mental health, among others.
Efforts should be made to minimize those effects rather than spread misinformation.