Members of a working group in Thunder Bay, Ont., aimed at preparing the city for the legalization of recreational marijuana, say there's still much work to be done to get ready.
The Liberal government is aiming to pass legislation to legalize the drug in time for Canada Day, but Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor has conceded that provinces might need eight to 12 weeks beyond that date to commence legal pot sales.
Ontario still has three sets of proposed regulatory changes currently out for consultation, said Cynthia Olsen, the coordinator of the Thunder Bay Drug Strategy. The federal government too has not yet confirmed all of its regulations.
Until then, much is up in the air, Olsen said.
"There will be work to do once we know where they land," she added.
Pot consumption in hotel rooms?
Some of the regulations still up for consultation raise questions such as, "Should novice drivers by subject to zero tolerance for cannabis consumption just as they are currently subject to zero tolerance for alcohol consumption?" and "Should cannabis consumption be allowed in hotel rooms?" Olsen said.
Right now, the province will only permit pot use in private residences, but even then, she added, the working group is unclear on whether that includes back yards.
"It's a concern if they only want it in your residence," she said. "We'd want you to do that outside for health reasons."
Down the road, the province is asking whether it should license premises, such as pot lounges, for public consumption, Olsen said, though such venues would not open until well after the initial legalization of the drug.
Screening drivers for cannabis impairment
From a policing standpoint, the Thunder Bay Police Service has officers trained in drug recognition and field sobriety testing, said inspector of corporate services, Don Lewis.
"So really what needs to be done from our end is dealing with a potential increase in calls for service, dealing with people that are potentially impaired by drugs," he said.
There are roadside screening devices capable of detecting marijuana intoxication, he added. The force is just waiting for the province to decide which device to use.
The Ontario Police College is also putting together a training package related to marijuana so that training for all police services in Ontario is consistent, Lewis said.
Where not to put a pot shop in Thunder Bay
Meanwhile, Ontario has confirmed that it will forego licensing private cannabis shops in favour of selling pot through its own Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation, a division of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.
Initial plans call for one shop in Thunder Bay, and the working group has submitted feedback to the province about locations to avoid, Olsen said. Those no-go locations include any place near schools, waterways, places frequented by youth, or places where vulnerable people are likely to be found, such as addiction treatment centres.
The Thunder Bay Drug Strategy will also begin discussing matters at its March meeting related to the prevention and treatment of problematic cannabis use, harm reduction and public education, she added.