Whether they want it or not, new municipal governments will have cannabis at the top of their agendas this fall.

That’s because the provincial government is giving municipalities a limited opt-out period of allowing retail cannabis stores within their borders after legalization kicks in on October 17.

Based on information he’s received from the province, François St. Amour, Warden of the United Counties of Prescott and Russell and mayor of La Nation, says municipalities that choose to opt out now may opt in later, but not the other way around.

“If we’re allowed to opt in later on, that’s a good option,” he says. “Considering also that there is marijuana being delivered through the post.”

While Prescott-Russell has two levels of municipal government, St. Amour thinks the decision will fall to lower-tier councils.

Asked if he’s leaning one way or the other, St. Amour says he’d wait.

“People aren’t telling us what they want to do. It’s still nebulous. Nobody knows that much. Is there a need for local cannabis stores? Maybe,” he says.

He reaffirmed an approval for its medical use, but he’s not so sure about cannabis for fun and “other effects it brings.” He mentioned driving while impaired (police are going through special training to recognize and monitor this possibility); addiction issues and the tired, worn-out idea that cannabis is a gateway drug. And he’s not the only local mayor to reiterate the cliché.

Need for consistency

Since Prescott-Russell is made up of eight lower-tier municipalities, enforcement could become an issue if some opt-out of allowing private retailers.

Franca Campisi, detachment commander of Hawkesbury OPP, says the police body has an ongoing working group with province to help create legislation.

She says she was a little surprised by the privatization announcement, but the focus is really on legislation.

Campisi’s detachment covers the region from East Hawkesbury to Alfred-Plantagenet, with Russell OPP covering the rest of Prescott-Russell.

“I think the mayors need to have a discussion on what they want to do,” says Campisi. “Ultimately, it’s their decision but I think consistency is important too.”

Tight deadline

Asked about priorities with less than two months away from legalization, Campisi says the courts are a big one.

While officers are going through special training for impaired driving, it still isn’t clear if an officer’s testimony will be valued in court.

In a related issue, if someone is growing plants at homethe feds put in a four-plant-one-meter-high limitand they end up in court with their plants being held by police. Campisi says detachment will need resources to keep those plants alive since depending on the legal procedure they could be returned to their owner.

Suffice to say it’s crunch time for weed legislation.

Provincial help

Ontario is planning to have online recreational cannabis sales ready to go for October 17 through the Ontario Cannabis Store. Afterwards, it’ll launch consultation and the opt out period to have everything ready to go for the private sale by April 1 next year.

During the privatization announcement from a couple of weeks ago, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli also said the province would put up $40 million to help municipalities with legalization costs over two years. With 444 municipalities in the province, that’s only $45,000 each per year (assuming they all allow private retail stores).