New Brunswick

Municipalities scrambling to prepare for cannabis get new tool

The Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick in partnership with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has released a Municipal Guide to Cannabis Legalization.

Guide identifies challenges of legalization, including how to enforce home-grown pot regulations

Bev Gaston, president of the Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick, says the guide is a big step forward in helping municipalities prepare to keep citizens safe and well-served once recreational cannabis use is legalized. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

The president of the Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick says most municipalities are probably not prepared for the legalization of pot.

But the group, in partnership with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, has released a Municipal Guide to Cannabis Legalization to help.

The digital booklet describes the "tremendous scope of work ahead for municipalities and offers some direction and options on how to implement that work," said Bev Gaston, who is also the mayor of Doaktown.

It attempts to identify areas of concern and offers templates for how New Brunswick's cities, towns and villages can ensure their regulations and bylaws are in sync with federal legislation — covering everything from policing to land use and zoning, such as not having any schools too close to cannabis stores.

"It started slow and we're concerned about that," said Gaston.

The federal government is expected to legalize the recreational use of marijuana around August, and municipalities want to be ready.

"Let's put it this way, we're going to have to be," Gaston said.

Up to 17 departments involved

That's one of the reasons the New Brunswick and national organizations released the guidelines on Monday, following months of collaboration with technical and legal experts.

"We have some work to do yet and we want to make sure our member municipalities are up to scratch on what needs to be done."

You can grow, I think, four plants in a home. How are we going to know?- Bev Gaston, Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick

Legalization of the production, sales and consumption of cannabis is expected to involve as many as 17 municipal departments, depending on the size of the municipality, he said, and many of the smaller communities may not have the resources.

Some of the main areas of concern include public safety and education, as well as the associated costs.

The New Brunswick association, which represents 60 municipalities across the province, wants to ensure the RCMP and municipal police force officers are properly trained and adequate funding is available from Ottawa, said Gaston.

Home cultivation concerns

He expects some of the regulations will prove challenging to enforce, particularly when it comes to activities in people's homes.

"You can grow, I think, four plants in a home. How are we going to know? How is that going to be policed so it doesn't get bigger so that person may become a trafficker or something?"

It's just one of many topics under discussion, said Gaston.

The federal government had initially set July 1 as the target date for cannabis legalization, but it's been postponed until at least August. (CBC)

"Of all the regulations that might be considered in relation to the legalization of cannabis, this one has the potential to generate the greatest number of enforcement complaints," the guide states.

Requiring licences for personal home cultivation "could help identify where cannabis production is actually occurring—though it is worth evaluating whether citizens would be likely to comply with such a requirement."

The municipalities also want their citizens to be well-informed about the new laws and will be relying on the provincial and federal governments to provide more education, he said.

"I'm sure there's you know people for and against [legalization] in all municipalities. … We just want to make sure that if it's going to be done, it's going to be done legally and it's going to be policed properly."

"As the order of government closest to people's lives, municipalities will be on the front lines of implementation as cannabis legalization becomes a reality later this year," Jenny Gerbasi, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and deputy mayor of Winnipeg, said in a statement.

"It's going to take a concerted effort from all levels of government to make this work."

The national federation has nearly 2,000 members, representing more than 90 per cent of the Canadian population.

With files from Information Morning Moncton