Preparing for the legalization of cannabis presents some challenges to Nova Scotia’s municipal units, including the short time period they have to work with, says a Halifax councillor who was in Yarmouth for a gathering of municipal government representatives.
“It’s one of those issues where we know this has been coming down for the last couple of years,” said Coun. Shawn Cleary. “We had a lot of warning it was coming, but we had no idea what it was going to look like, so it’s only been in the last six, seven months that we kind of have an idea what it’s going to look like.”
It doesn’t appear they have a big timeframe before cannabis becomes legal, he said.
Meanwhile, Robert Purcell of Nova Scotia’s justice department describes the move to legal cannabis as a “complex policy shift” where much remains unknown, but he said everyone involved is trying to ensure it’s done in the best way possible.
Purcell, senior official with the justice department’s cannabis initiative, also was in Yarmouth for the spring workshop of the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, formerly known as the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, which was held May 10-12 at the Mariners Centre.
Both he and Cleary were the presenters for a Saturday morning session on cannabis legalization.
Precisely when people will be able to by cannabis legally is unknown, “but we believe we’re ready to go, whether it’s July, August or September,” Purcell said.
In this province, cannabis will be sold at 12 NSLC locations, including Yarmouth. (Initially, there were to have been nine, but three more were recently announced.) It also will be available online.
In his Yarmouth presentation – and again in an interview afterwards – Purcell said having cannabis sales limited to the NSLC seemed the best approach. He cited two American states – Washington and Colorado – that went with a more wide-open system and that might have done it differently, he said, if given another chance.
“That’s one of the lessons learned that was cited by them,” Purcell said, “that if they had to do it over again, they would probably begin with a tighter regulated model rather than the model they (used), which was essentially private retailers and not tightly regulated.”
Cleary said he’s glad the province chose the NSLC for cannabis sales in Nova Scotia. The concern, he said, is whether some people – if they’re a good distance from an NSLC location where cannabis is available legally – might go to an illegal source to get the product.
Aside from that, Cleary said there are a number of issues for municipalities with regard to legal cannabis, including where people will be allowed to smoke, the cost of enforcement and the like.
“As more people start looking to legal cannabis ... as it becomes more mainstream, more people are going to see it – and not everyone likes it – and so we know we’re going to get more calls from the public saying ‘hey, I don’t like this. People are smoking on my street. People are smoking in this park. You need to send people out to deal with this.’”
Given that different municipalities may take different approaches as to where cannabis use will be permitted, Cleary said, “We’ll end up with a patchwork over the next couple of years of where you can, where you can’t ... We’re going to have to put up signs saying, ‘you can smoke over here,’ ‘you can’t smoke over there.’ The costs keep adding up for us.”
What about education? That was one of the issues raised by a workshop participant.
Purcell said a Nova Scotia public awareness program regarding cannabis should be out early this summer. He also said different provincial government departments are being approached about what they can do or are doing in this regard.
“So there’s certainly a recognition, from a Nova Scotia perspective, that great efforts have to go into public awareness and education in this new era that we’re entering,” Purcell said.