Legalization of Cannabis is just around the corner

There are only two weeks left until the legalization of recreational cannabis on October 17th, 2018

It was a small but curious audience on Wednesday, October 3rd, who attended ‘Weeding out the Myths’ at the Plex in Port Elgin, where a panel from various fields helped to dispel some myths surrounding cannabis, to explain some of the rules that will apply under the legislation and the effects that cannabis can have, both mentally and physically.

    (L) Jason Weppler, Chief Mike Bellai, Dr. Jim Wei and Dave Roy

Jason Weppler, of the Grey Bruce Health Unit, along with Pharmacist Jim Wei of Walkerton, Saugeen Shores Police Chief Mike Bellai and Dave Roy of Hope Grey Bruce Mental Health & Addictions, presented in-depth information and then fielded audience questions.

Jason Weppler said that ‘Weeding out the Myths’ is to make sure that youth and parents have the necessary information to make informed decisions.  “The legislation seems to keep changing daily but we are here to discuss what we know to date. There are several reasons the government has decided to legalize.  One is to keep cannabis out of the hands of youth, to keep profits out of the hands of criminals, to protect health and safety by allowing adults access to safe, legal cannabis and to reduce the burden on the criminal justice system.”

According to Weppler, the Province of Ontario has passed new laws on what,where and who can buy and consume cannabis. “Our focus is on the legal recreational use of cannabis and not the medical use.  It will be able to be purchased on-line through the official government site and will be delivered to the consumer.  The retail model will not be available until the new year and, therefore, purchase will only be made through the on-line source. The Alcohol Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) will be given the power to regulate the marketplace, including the granting and revoking of licenses to sellers when the retail model is in place.”

He also pointed out that municipalities will have until January 22, 2019 to decided if they want to opt out of having retail outlets within their municipal boundaries.  The province will also have the authority over the distance/buffer zone between retail outlets and schools or other accessible areas.  “The rules have been loosened by the province allowing cannabis to be used anywhere that tobacco is allowed.  Now, anywhere a person can smoke tobacco in public, cannabis is allowed, with some regulations concerning playgrounds, parks, patios, etc.  We know from Colorado that there was no significant use by youth following legislation. Today, in Ontario, approximately 17 per cent of students from Grades 7 – 12 use cannabis regularly.  We know that cannabis is not a benign substance and there are risks for youth and there are misconceptions out there such as cannabis is a natural produce so it should be harmless.  These are myths that should be dispelled.”

The government has also committed $50 Million over five years for public education and awareness.

With government rules changing almost on a daily basis, Chief Mike Bellai said that the police will adapt, but he is concerned with drivers and that people may have the wrong perception of what legalization of cannabis really means. “The same laws will be applied to impaired driving, whether it’s alchohol or a drug like cannabis.  There are both Federal and Provincial Legislations and still much confusion about the law.  There are social impacts and how people live day to day may change.  Cannabis does impair cognitive thought and our primary focus is the operation of motor vehicles. Still, as of today, it is still illegal to possess, grow or sell cannabis.  The growing of four plants will be a challenge for police to monitor.  There is an absolute prohibition for youth under 19.  Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, police were allowed to contact the parents for an infraction by an under-age there was a diversion program that had to be followed or consequences met.  Under the new legislation, police will no longer contact parents, a ticket will be given to the young offender who can pay it and the diversion program is on-line, so the parents may never know and that is a concern to us, the police.  To date, we still don’t know what the tickets will be.”  Chief Bellai says that cannabis will be strictly regulated.

“Four people in Canada die every day because of impaired driving and there is no doubt that cannabis slows down reflexes and ability to react,” said Bellai.  The Federal Government has committed $160 Million to train police officers and are currently working with the Centre for Forensic Science for fluid testing.  There was recently a device introduced but it has several issues, including false positive tests and it has not been tested in court.  Therefore, we have a trained officer specifically for drugs and all our officers are trained in FSST (Field standard sobriety test).  We are going to rely on good old-fashioned police work and we recently signed a shared service agreement with surrounding municipalities.”

Jim Wei also explained that edibles containing cannabis can be especially risky as the effects can take up to two hours before being realized.  “The temptation, after feeling no effects after ingesting one edible, is to have another and so on, but it’s two hours later when the effects do set in that people can experience difficulties such as paranoia and even hallucinations.”

Dave Roy of Hope Grey Bruce Mental Health & Addictions, encouraged those parents and grandparents in the audience to keep the lines of communication open with children and teens.  “Listen, don’t ‘talk at’, and be authoritative not authoritarian.  Understand the reality that kids are going to experiment.  Have discussions with your kids and become informed about the drug culture and what’s out there.”

Carrie Shute of Georgian College said that cannabis will not be allowed on campus and that, in fact, the College is heading toward a ‘no smoking’ policy.

The legalization of cannabis comes into effect on October 17th but there still remain many questions on how it will be controlled and dispensed. As of now, according to Chief Bellai, Only 30 grams will be allowed for personal use to adults over 19, sharing will be allowed if no money is exchanged, purchasing from a licensed business only will be allowed and driving while under the effects of cannabis will be considered Impaired Driving.