Confused public, officials fire questions at MLAs during pot consultations
Federal government has promised legalization, regulation of recreational marijuana use by July 2018
Provincial MLAs heard more questions than answers on the first day of public consultations on cannabis regulations in the province.
The meeting, held in Grand Falls on Wednesday, was organized by the select committee on cannabis, made up of government and opposition MLAs who are travelling the province to hear what rules officials and residents want applied to the sale and consumption of recreational marijuana.
But by the end of the meeting, some said the committee may have "put the cart before the horse."
"The planning board, I mean we had six pages of questions, and I'm really concerned that people just have no idea on what's going on," said Ross Wetmore, Conservative MLA for Gagetown-Petitcodiac.
Questions around enforcement, bylaws
The federal government announced earlier this year that it will legalize and regulate recreational marijuana use by July 2018.
In March, the province announced it will create legislation on marijuana this fall, along with the creation of a working group to assess potential risks associated with the legalization and to recommend the best distribution and retail sales model.
The group since tabled a report, which the committee uses to inform New Brunswickers about the challenges and opportunities of legalizing recreational marijuana.
Wednesday's meeting was the first time for municipalities and residents to get involved in the discussion.
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Among those attending were planners from several municipalities, including Fredericton, Miramichi and Edmundston.
Ken Forrest, planning director for Fredericton, said the city wants to understand the province's plans for legislation on legal enforcement and what amounts it will consider appropriate to have for personal use.
"So that we're protecting, not only the people in neighbourhoods that want to consume the products, but those that actually don't want to be exposed to the product and make sure there's an appropriate balance there," Forrest said.
He added that the city will also have to consider amendments to bylaws for retailers, as well as the rules for people growing marijuana at home "to make sure we're ready as a community for July 2018."
NB Liquor and other provincial liquor boards have suggested their stores could serve as the retail outlets for marijuana.
David Russell, a former longtime employee with NB Liquor, said he agrees that the corporation or pharmacies should be the designated sellers of marijuana.
But he wondered how municipalities will regulate how many plants a household can grow, and what constitutes being a household in the first place.
"Could I grow a plant at my house and my cottage?" he said.
Difficult to plan
Planners also stressed the difficulty of enforcing bylaws in a city, compared to rural areas.
Pascale Hudon, city planner for Edmundston, said rural areas often function like the Wild West, while it's the cities that get the complaints.
"There are so many times that we get phone calls from people … because they have problems with their neighbours, they have problems with a specific use," he said.
"And we have to tell them, 'well, there's no rule in place. There's no one that can enforce anything.'"
Other questions ranged from the necessities of fencing to whether personal growth restrictions should be enforced.
"For example, just a detail, about growing marijuana, should it be fenced in, or not? Now those are little things, that to my mind, it's a detail but it's important," said Benoit Bourque, committee chair and Liberal MLA for Kent South.
Bourque added he disagreed about the meeting raising too many questions and not providing enough answers.
"I would certainly think that, to me, raising questions is as healthy and productive as coming up with opinions," he said.
The committee will be in Atholville on Thursday, with meetings continuing all through the month, ending on July 28 in Fredericton.
With files from Catherine Harrop