Cannabis is legal: here’s everything Brampton residents need to know
Graphics by Joel Wittnebel, photo by Mansoor Tanweer

Cannabis is legal: here’s everything Brampton residents need to know

The countdown to cannabis is over.

As of October 17, it is legal to smoke cannabis and enjoy many of its derivatives wherever it’s legal to light up a cigarette. It’s a bright day for anybody with a penchant for pot, but not so much for those on the receiving end of managing the legalization framework.

For municipalities and enforcement agencies, the lead-up to legalization has involved navigating a labyrinth of issues as they work to figure out how legalization affects not only their communities but also their own internal operations.

Municipalities were thrown a curve ball with the June provincial election as the Conservatives won a majority government and brought with them sweeping changes to the previously approved Liberal legalization framework. Particularly problematic was a decision that did away with restricting sales to LCBO-run pot shops, opening up the market, as of April, 2019, to private business owners—leaving the decision, in the meantime, on whether to allow them to individual municipalities. The use of cannabis can also be regulated by cities, if they choose to enact bylaws beyond the rules outlined by the province. 

On Tuesday Markham city council passed a bylaw effectively banning marijuana use in public spaces. It states: “no person shall smoke or vaporize Cannabis, or hold or otherwise use lit Cannabis in any Public Place” and “any other location or area owned by the city.”

The impact of the province’s decision on retail outlets for the sale of cannabis won’t be felt until April, when the retail legislation comes into effect. That's probably a relief to many municipalities as they grapple with the impact of possibly allowing legal cannabis shops.

During a question-and-answer period on October 16, members of the City of Brampton bylaw department and Brampton Fire and Emergency Services, alongside members of Peel Regional Police, spent some time answering questions from the media and sharing a final set of key messages with the public ahead of legalization.

Brampton Bylaw

Plain and simple, in Brampton, smoking pot is illegal wherever it is illegal to spark up a cigarette under the Smoke Free Ontario Act. This includes public parks, inside public facilities and recreation centres, work spaces, and within nine metres of their entrances.

“Bylaws are in place to keep our communities safe and enjoyable,” said Jean-Pierre Maurice, the city’s manager of bylaw enforcement.

Unlike some cities, Brampton City Council has yet to initiate a process of gathering public feedback or deliberation on further measures to regulate cannabis use within the city. In Ontario municipalities have a right to opt out of allowing private pot shops, or to limit where they are allowed to operate, or to designate certain additional areas as cannabis-free. There has been no formal debate at city hall on Brampton’s position.

Absent municipal bylaws to set further restrictions, cannabis smoking and vaping is allowed in private residences, many outdoor areas, designated hotel rooms, aboard stationary residential vehicles and boats, and in designated, controlled areas in long-term care homes, retirement residences, hospices, provincially-funded supportive housing, and designated psychiatric and veterans’ facilities.

It is not allowed in workplaces and enclosed public spaces; in common areas of condos, apartment buildings or student residences; in restaurants, their patios or within 9 metres of a patio; in bus shelters or other partially walled outdoor areas; or in non-designated hotel rooms. It also won’t be allowed within 20 metres of sports fields and seating, schools, playgrounds, child-care centres and the like, or in hospitals, their grounds, or anywhere closer than 9 metres of hospital entrances.

The biggest issue for bylaw enforcement will come on the residential side of things and the potential interaction between tokers and non-smokers. While it may be legal to light up in your own home and backyard, the city is sure to see an increase in nuisance calls as the skunky smoke drifts into the yards of those who may wish to avoid any contact with the drug and its residue.

If the smoke happens to drift over during a particularly rowdy party, Maurice said, bylaw officers may be able to step in, based on nuisance or noise bylaws, but other than that it’s a bit of a grey area.

“This is all being looked as as we move forward,” he said.

Similar clashes could arise in public spaces where it is technically legal to light a joint. “Technically you could walk on a trail if there’s no playgrounds around and smoke a joint,” Maurice said. The city will investigate any complaints made on city-owned property, he said.

Fines for breaking said laws could range into the hundreds of dollars, and even higher for more serious offences, but Maurice said he hopes the public will be mindful when it comes to use of marijuana in places where others might find it objectionable.

“We’re hoping the public will be reasonable.’’

Residents can report concerns by calling 311 or emailing [email protected].

Brampton Fire and Emergency Services

“We don’t know what the full impact will be for fire and emergency services,” said Andrew von Holt, a division chief in fire prevention with Brampton Fire Services.

Adding another legal smoking item into the home is a concern for fire services across the province due to the increased fire hazard. In Brampton, 30 percent of fatal fires over the last five years have been caused by improperly disposed-of smoking materials.

Cannabis use tied in with cooking is also often a problem. According to von Holt, cooking is the leading cause of house fires and burn injuries in Brampton. Adding marijuana into the mix while whipping up edibles is not advised, he said.

“We’re concerned about the influence of cannabis while cooking, so we do not recommend (it); we’re advising cannabis users not to cook while under the influence.”

Cultivation of cannabis in the home also raises a number of potential concerns with Brampton Fire Services, including the use of compressed gasses to increase plant yields (these canisters can be dangerous for firefighters while on scene of a fire), along with the potential for fires from heat lamps used to grow the plants and faulty wiring from grow-ops using illegal electricity. Legally, Canadians will be allowed to grow four plants per residence, not per person.

There's also a risk of explosions associated with the production of the popular marijuana product known as “shatter” or hash oil. The oil is extracted from the marijuana plant using butane gas, which is highly volatile.

“This is a very dangerous process and uses highly flammable gas butane to extract the oil from the marijuana plant, and we don’t recommend it at all,” von Holt said.

Colorado saw an almost 50 percent increase in home explosions following legalization of cannabis there.

Peel Regional Police

For Peel Regional Police, October 17 marks the culmination of nearly a year of preparation on the external side, in educating the public, and internally in considering how the legalization will affect police processes and whether more resources will be needed to handle the certain increase in expected calls.

“We wanted to ensure that we had the resources in place to deal with what can be expected to be a uptick in the need to address the concern,” said Supt. Manny Rodrigues.

In January, Peel police formed a committee to handle the many questions legalization posed for the region’s police. From the outset, he said, the focus has been on one thing: safety, and particularly the threat of an increase in drug-impaired driving.

New drug-impaired driving laws are set to come into effect in December under Bill C46, which received Royal Assent last week. While giving officers a new wealth of tools to control alcohol- and drug-impaired driving, it opens a new set of training requirements for police forces.

Among the changes, police officers will be allowed to conduct roadside sobriety tests at any time, no longer needing a reasonable suspicion that a person is impaired; roadside saliva testing is being implemented to test for the presence of various drugs; and levels of THC in a person's blood within two hours of driving are being set that could classify a driver as impaired, similar to measurements used for blood-alcohol content.

Rodrigues said Peel police are currently in the midst of training officers to enforce the new regulations when they come into effect in December.

“We’re as ready as we can be,” he said. “We’re able to adapt to whatever changes the legislation may thrust upon us.”

In terms of the potential need for more officers following legalization, Rodrigues said that at this point it really is a question of wait and see. “We have put procedures and policy in place to try and measure what the impact is.’’

Peel police are also putting enforcement resources toward controlling the sale of marijuana to youth (you must be 19 or older to purchase marijuana). Of-age Canadians will legally be allowed to purchase 30 grams (about one ounce) of dried marijuana at one time.

“The legislation is fairly strict when it comes to selling to those under the age of 19,” Rodrigues said. “That is really one of our focuses.”

Finally, Peel police are urging residents to consider what number they dial when they pick up the phone to file complaints about marijuana. “What we don’t want is for citizens to get bounced around between the police and the information numbers provided by the region.”

Concerned about a potential tidal wave of calls to dispatchers, Rodrigues says residents are urged to call 911 only in an emergency, and not with questions related to marijuana legalization.

For incidents related to driving under the influence of cannabis, illegal dispensaries, selling to underage users and illegal possession of cannabis, contact Peel Regional Police at 905-453-3311 for non-emergency situations, Peel Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477, and obviously 911 for any emergency situations.

What’s to come

Rodrigues doesn’t really expect any issues with legal cannabis to come across officers’ desks until this coming weekend. At the moment, the only legal place to purchase pot is online through the province’s Ontario Cannabis Store, which will take a couple of days to ship out orders. So, any pot being consumed over the next couple of days is more than likely illicit.

Brampton residents looking to learn whether they will  be able to purchase their pot from someone other than the provincial government will have to wait until December.

Currently, Brampton staff are in the midst of drafting a report to council with a December delivery date with information around opting in or out of allowing private retail stores. The province is giving municipalities until Jan. 22 to decide whether  to opt out of allowing the stores within their boundaries.

If Brampton council opts to allow the stores, the earliest one could legally pop up in the city is April 2019.

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