Nova Scotia

N.S. towns and cities struggle to prepare for legal marijuana

The deadline for the legalization of cannabis is approaching, and Nova Scotia's municipalities say they still have questions - not least, how they'll cover the costs that are coming.

The federal government will legalize marijuana in months, leaving many decision with municipalities

Nova Scotia is likely to end up with a patchwork of municipal rules regarding cannabis, says a Halifax councillor. (CBC)

With the deadline for legalization of cannabis approaching on July 1, Nova Scotia's municipalities say many questions remain about the effect of legalization on municipal functions — and finances.

Before the spring sitting of the legislature ended, the province passed its Cannabis Control Act. But municipal officials say that leaves plenty up to Nova Scotia's cities, towns and villages.

"Where they can sell it, where they can smoke it, how we enforce the provincial and federal laws," Halifax councillor Shawn Cleary told CBC's Information Morning. "There's many, many aspects of this that municipalities are actually going to be responsible for and enforcing, even though they're provincial and federal laws."

Earlier this week, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities released a guide to assist municipalities as they prepare for legalization. 

Planning for production, residential cultivation

Ben Sivak, chief planner in the Halifax Regional Municipality's planning and development department, said production facilities will be governed by municipal zoning rules.

"We need to update those rules to make sure that facilities are located in sensible places," said Sivak.

Sivak said this is particularly true for growers with micro-cultivation licences, a new category of licence that involves smaller sites with simpler regulations.

Sivak said HRM is thinking about home cultivation too, as Nova Scotia has said it will follow federal legislation and allow four plants per household. The plants can be grown inside or outside, where they may lead to complaints.

"We're talking about nuisance, and when people complain about that, it's usually to the municipal councillor and the expectation is the municipality might do something about that."

'A patchwork of rules'

Cleary, who also chairs the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities' working group on legalization, said where people can smoke will likely to be another source of nuisance complaints. 

Unlike other provinces, Nova Scotia will allow public consumption of cannabis, with some restrictions imposed through the an expanded Smoke Free Places Act. 

"We'll end up, I think, with a patchwork of rules across Nova Scotia, rather than a uniform set of rules," said Cleary.

Shawn Cleary is the municipal councillor for district 9 Halifax West Armdale. (CBC)

An even bigger question, Cleary said, was how municipal units will pay for the enforcement of rules, including policing costs. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates costs will be up to $4.75 million annually for a city the size of the HRM.  

"This is going to cost us a lot of money and we have had zero discussion with the province yet on how they're going to share the revenues with us. The federal government has said it's got be shared; we haven't learned how that's going to happen yet." 

A spokesperson for the province said in an email that they recognize there will be costs associated with legalization for the province and municipalities, and that the matter is evolving.

The spokesperson said the province is awaiting funding details from the federal government, including in policing, and they'll keep talking to the provinces.