Q&A: Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic on Ontario's marijuana plan

Craig Norris, host of the Morning Edition on CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, speaks to Kitchener mayor Berry Vrbanovic about the province's new framework for managing the sale and use of marijuana.

'We're going to be looking for a share of any taxes they collect in the distribution of marijuana'

Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic spoke to Craig Norris, host of the Morning Edition, about the province's new plans for marijuana legalization. (Tiffany Pope / CBC)

Residents of Ontario finally know the details of the province's new framework to manage the sale and use of marijuana, and opinion remains as divided as ever. 

The plan, released Friday, includes opening eighty stand-alone stores by July 1, 2019, and having a total of roughly 150 stores opened by 2020. The province also said online distribution would be available across Ontario from July 2018 onward, and it proposed a minimum age of 19 to use, purchase and possess recreational cannabis in Ontario.

In Brantford, mayor Chris Friel, was critical of the provincial framework. 

"You are bringing in legalized [marijuana], the largest potential cash crop, and you have industrialized it," Friel told CBC News. "What about the generations of farmers who are looking for alternate crops? What opportunity was available for them?"

Bill Bogart, a professor of law at the University of Windsor, said the government will face challenges convincing the public its regulations will keep young people away from marijuana. 

"Most Canadians don't believe Justin Trudeau that this regime is going to keep kids away from this drug," he told Craig Norris, host of The Morning Edition on CBC Radio. "The federal government and the provinces have a lot of work to do on these educational campaigns."

Locally, Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said he's happy with the plan, though he told the CBC host Craig Norris that he doesn't think it will bring much economic benefit to the city. 

The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

Norris: What are your thoughts on this new plan?

Vrbanovic: I am pretty happy by the direction the province is going in terms of the distribution network. You know, we think in terms of liquor and smoking regulation and so on – things are working fairly well in the province of Ontario. Regulating distribution of products for those under age to consume [and] using the new stores will allow the regulation to continue to be in place but also not make it so difficult to get that essentially you're defeating the purpose of the legalization of the product.

What's municipal government's role in addressing this framework?

Our role is going to be on a few fronts. First of all, from a planning perspective, it's going to be needing to look at where should potential marijuana stores be able to be located in municipalities. So that's going to be a planning process that cities are directly going to need to be involved with. And I understand that the LCBO has at least said that they plan on working with local governments in helping to determine those locations. That's certainly an encouraging sign. I think secondly, it boils down to policing and dealing with the issues that come with either the continued illegal consumption of marijuana or things like marijuana usage and driving. And as you've heard from Chief Larkin and others, this continues to be an area of concern because they need to make sure they have the proper tools in place to ensure people aren't driving under the influence.

New technologies have been tested and tried, and those are going to need to be acquired, and so there is going to be a process here where police forces are looking for those costs to be reimbursed, in order to not have to incur the cost at the expense of local taxpayers.

And then finally there's the public health component, which in the Region of Waterloo, the region is responsible for, and the whole prevention piece, encouraging young people not to become regular users of marijuana, and doing the education piece to try to ensure that that happens.

Is there a sense that we could see costs increase in things like policing and bylaw enforcement?

Any time you're dealing with the enforcement of a new piece of legislation there is usually a blip that's involved there. And it is part of the reason municipalities have said to both the federal government and to the provincial government that we're going to be looking for a share of any taxes they collect in the distribution of marijuana. That is obviously part of the conversation that has yet to happen, and will no doubt happen in the months ahead, as will some of the planning issues. 

Do you think there will be any economic benefit for the city because of this plan? 

It's going to be negligible. If you're talking 160 stores across a province, we might see two, at best three in Waterloo Region. So you can say there will be a few jobs in those stores, there will be the construction value of a few new retail places being built. I guess you could argue that economic benefit that will happen will occur because people who are buying marijuana are presumably not buying it through the criminal element anymore, and are going to be purchasing it through legitimate means.

Listen to the full interview here: