Regulating Cannabis, CBRM-Style

In the wake of the federal government’s decision to legalize cannabis (which happened on October 17), CBRM Council asked staff to produce an Issue Paper considering “the implications of the CBRM introducing more stringent provisions regulating the consumption of cannabis in public places than the Province imposed with its amendments to the Smoke Free Places Act.”

Malcolm Gillis, director of planning and development, presented that Issue Paper during the General Committee meeting on Monday and it was a breath of fresh air.

Gillis outlined three possible approaches the CBRM could take:

  1. Accept the Province’s amended Smoke Free Places Act as the regulatory regimen.
  2. Adopt a Bylaw that bans the smoking of cannabis wherever the consumption of alcohol is banned.
  3. Adopt a Bylaw that bans the smoking of cannabis in more select public places, but not to the extent of alcohol.

He considered the pros and cons of all three, but recommended Option 1, arguing that enforcing a wider smoking ban would be a “difficult challenge” for police as it “takes minutes to smoke a tobacco or cannabis cigarette; that people are not likely to “step out” or “take a break” from their daily responsibilities to smoke pot (my word, not his) because pot is smoked “primarily because of its intoxicating effects;” there is no evidence to suggest second-hand cannabis smoke outdoors represents a health or contact-high risk; regulating cannabis too strictly would cause problems for those who use it for medicinal purpose; that allowing municipalities to create their own rules could result in a “confusingly complex range of regulations” and finally:

A ban on smoking cannabis in public would leave marginalized people with nowhere to light up without breaking the rules, making them vulnerable to being over-policed (e.g. the ban would be almost complete in downtown Sydney if tenants of apartment buildings could not smoke within their apartments).

Gillis also underlined a provincial poll in which 73% of respondents favored regulating cannabis in outdoor spaces similarly to tobacco before proposing the CBRM “wait to see” if there is a need for more stringent regulation.

District 12 Councilor Jim MacLeod moved that Council accept Gillis’ recommendation and District 1 Councilor Clarence Prince seconded the motion.

In the discussion that ensued, the following points struck me as worth mentioning:


Police and Taxes

Cape Breton Regional Police Chief Peter McIsaac during Monday's General Committee meeting discussion of cannabis policy.

Cape Breton Regional Police Chief Peter McIsaac during Monday’s General Committee meeting discussion of cannabis policy.

District 11 Councilor Kendra Coombes asked CAO Marie Walsh if she’d had confirmation the provincial government would be sharing tax revenue from cannabis with the municipalities. The feds have agreed to give the provinces 75% of cannabis tax revenues, but how the provinces share that money with their municipalities is up to the provinces. It’s a drum the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) has been beating since legalization was first announced but so far, only Québec, Ontario and Alberta have revealed their revenue-sharing plans.

Walsh said she had not yet received any such confirmation, but Cape Breton Regional Police Chief Peter MacIsaac, in attendance to answer any enforcement questions, told Councilor Coombes that his department has spent roughly $90,000 for drug-impairment training for three officers (!) and he feels the force should be “reimbursed” for the expense. MacIsaac said he spoke to the province’s director of policing services who said to give him the invoice and he’ll pass it on to the minister.

The province’s share of the cannabis tax is expected to fund policing, yes, but also health and educational programs and It would be a shame to see it all get eaten up by our police department, which already has a massive (by CBRM standards) $27 million annual budget.

And as Brittany Andrew-Amofah of the Broadbent Institute has noted:

If anyone missed the memo that marijuana legalization is more about safety and government control, rather than liberalizing the use of the drug, [FCM President Jenny Gerbasi’s] statement—suggesting that marijuana revenues are needed to add to police budgets—delivered the news in the starkest of terms. Indeed, those caught with possession of marijuana in the interim will still face convictions, and immediate decriminalization of the drug is not on the agenda.

Andrew-Amofah’s larger point was that “policing marijuana use in Canada has had a violent and disastrous impact on many Black, Indigenous and racialized communities.”

It’s one worth considering before we sign over the cannabis tax revenues to the police.


Incident reports

District 2 Councilor Earlene MacMullin noted that when she woke up on October 17th, nothing much had changed from October 18th and that she is very much in favor of Gillis’ wait-and-see approach. She asked McIsaac if the police had noticed any spike in cannabis-related incidents and McIsaac said there had been seven since legalization: four inquiries about the law itself; one “impaired driver involving cannabis and open cannabis in the vehicle;” and two nuisance complaints — one about a smell, which was gone by the time police got to the scene — and the other unfounded.

To his credit, McIsaac (who, according to Gillis, was the first to “critique” the Issue Paper) doesn’t seem overly fussed about cannabis. And he actually said:

I think everyone’s been paying attention to what’s been going on in Halifax, with regards to some of the decisions…I don’t think we want to go there.

McIsaac said he doesn’t expect problems during the winter, but that council might want to revisit the issue when the weather gets warmer and people start getting “comfortable” with pot being legal.


Sobriety, the spice of life

District 5 Councilor Eldon MacDonald informed Council he had never been drunk in his life.


District 4 Councilor Steve Gillespie during cannabis policy discussion at Monday's General Committee meeting.

District 4 Councilor Steve Gillespie during cannabis policy discussion at Monday’s General Committee meeting.

From the “Say What?” Dept

District 4 Councilor Steve Gillespie, who had called for the Issue Paper, said he would prefer Option 2. (Both he and Councilor Eldon MacDonald wondered what was the difference between smoking cannabis in public and drinking one beer or popping open a bottle of Jack Daniels and “taking a couple of drinks” in a way that was intended, I believe, to suggest both should be illegal but actually kind of made the case for why both should be allowed).

Gillespie thanked Gillis for “giving us the information to make the right decision” and then promptly voted against the motion, which would otherwise have passed unanimously.

Go figure.






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