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Alcohol, Cannabis & Drugs

Municipalities and Cannabis: A Public Health Perspective

On October 17, 2018, Canada legalized the use of cannabis beyond its current legalized use for medical purposes. Legalization of cannabis aims to protect youth from access to it, displace the illicit cannabis market by regulating the sale of safer cannabis products, and protect the health and safety of individuals from exposure to second hand smoke.

Cannabis use may have significant health risks, particularly among young people, and can lead to addiction (see Health Harms of Cannabis Use). The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has developed research-based Lower Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines to address these potential risks. Municipalities will have an important role to play in creating an environment that decreases the risk associated with cannabis use, and supports healthy decision-making around cannabis use, particularly among young people.

Municipal Role with Youth

The adolescent brain is developing until 25 years and older and regular cannabis use can affect normal development of memory, cognition, judgement and planning with long- term consequences.

Municipalities have an important role in promoting health and preventing problematic substance use among adolescents.

  • A youth-friendly community is one that is committed to supporting positive youth development; building the skills and resilience of youth and their families through access to safe, free recreational and social spaces, and school-or community-based organizations.
  • Consider incorporating youth’s voice in planning and development.
  • Promote positive social norms and prevent exposure to cannabis by reducing access and availability of substances through municipal alcohol and cannabis policy and by-laws.
  • Communicate risks with cannabis use and driving.

Municipal Role to Displace the Illicit Cannabis Market

The provincial government currently, has a regulated on-line retail model and will establish a private retail model by April 1, 2019, to displace the illicit cannabis market. Municipalities1 in Ontario must decide, by January 22, 2019, whether they will endorse private retail in their community now or opt out issuing a council resolution to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. The options are:

  1. Retail store(s) will not be permitted in the municipality for now. The municipality can decide later on to accept the retail store model in their municipality. This would provide time to access how retail stores are impacting other municipalities.
  2. Retail cannabis store(s) will be present in the municipality. This is a permanent decision. The municipal zoning by-laws will not apply to any application for a retail store. Local municipalities will be requested to provide comments on whether the retail store authorization is in the public interest and wishes of the residents within 15 days.

The presence of retail stores will allow people without financial credit or a personal address to access safer products, however their location, number or business hours may pose risks to youth. In order to mitigate some of these risks, consider the following when providing comments on whether the proposed site for a cannabis retail store is in the public’s interest (see Cannabis Retail Outlets: Considerations for Municipalities):

  • Reduce cannabis retail outlet density through minimum distance requirements (at least 300 metres) between cannabis retail outlets and limits on number in your community.
  • Prevent the role-modeling of cannabis use and reduce youth access through minimum distance requirements (at least 500 metres) from youth-serving facilities such as child care centres and community centres.
  • Discourage the co-use of cannabis and other substances by discouraging co-location and minimum distance requirements (at least 300 metres) between cannabis and alcohol or tobacco retail outlets to reduce risks associated with impaired driving.
  • Protect vulnerable residents by limiting cannabis retail outlets in low socioeconomic neighborhoods and other sensitive areas enacting minimum requirements.
  • Reduce cannabis consumptions and harms by limiting late night and early morning retail hours.

Municipal Role to Protect the Health and Safety of Individuals from Exposure to Second Hand Cannabis Smoke

The Smoke Free Ontario Act 2017 includes prohibitions of smoking or vaping cannabis in all places where it is prohibited to smoke or vape tobacco.

Restricting the use of cannabis, tobacco and vapour products together in a municipal by-law will decrease confusion as to which substances can be used in public places, and decrease enforcement challenges of having to identify the product or substance smoked or vaporized.

The Health Unit is available to support municipalities in helping draft municipal by-laws, provide sample by-laws and consult as well as provide support to municipal by-law enforcement staff.

Municipalities can develop by-laws as follows related to tobacco and cannabis smoking or vaping.

  1. Restrict use on all municipal properties or a specified distance from municipal entrances (e.g., 9 metres).
  2. The restrictions included in the Smoke Free Ontario Act 2017 and regulations can be mimicked in your by-law to ensure municipal staff can also enforce those restrictions ensuring fines issued go to municipal coffers and increasing the enforcement capacity. Those should include (a 20 metre radius to playgrounds and playing fields, a 20 metre radius from the perimetre of community recreational facility and a 9 metre radius to patios). (See municipality of North Grenville by-law).
  3. The municipality can add to the restrictions already offered in the Smoke Free Ontario Act 2017 (see above) by adding to their by-law to include all parks and playgrounds, municipal trails, street fairs and festivals, parade routes, parking lots, 9 metres from unenclosed bus stops, multi-unit dwellings and supportive housing. (See city of Kingston by-law).
  4. Restrict use in all public places including streets and sidewalks basically eliminating exposure in their municipality. (See city of Markham by-law).

Additional Resources

Cannabis Retail Outlet – Considerations for Municipalities

Get the Facts: Health Harms of Cannabis Use