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Municipalities key to safe, effective cannabis legalization (22/01/2018)

The following op/ed was published in the Hill Times on January 22, 2018. Jenny Gerbasi, President, Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

With cannabis set to become legal for recreational use by next summer, Canadians are asking tough questions: Will marijuana be sold next to my child's school? How will we keep drug-impaired drivers off the road? How will we dissuade my teenager from smoking pot? These are the kinds of questions that thousands of municipal leaders are working hard to answer.

Legalizing and regulating cannabis across Canada is a major challenge for all orders of government. As President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), I can tell you that local governments are well into this process. After all, our cities and communities are where cannabis will be produced, sold and consumed. And the proposed legislation places them on the front lines of keeping Canadians safe and well-served.

For instance, municipalities are preparing the bulk of Canada's police forces to enforce new cannabis rules. As a top priority, protecting people from impaired drivers means rolling out roadside testing programs, training officers on new equipment and protocols. But keeping Canadians safe and well-served will involve as many as 17 municipal departments-from business licensing to transit to human resources.

Municipalities will be amending, administering and enforcing zoning and density bylaws, along with rules around smoking restrictions, public nuisance, and safety concerns related to building codes. We may share responsibility with other governments for rules around minimum age of purchase, possession limits, public consumption, retail location, and home cultivation. We will play varying roles in promoting public health through education and prevention.

To help municipalities get ready, FCM published a Cannabis Legalization Primer last August, and we're in the final stages of developing a comprehensive guide. Implementing this federal commitment is a mammoth undertaking, and local governments are capable partners in getting it done. And we've always said that getting it done right requires two things: coordination among orders of government, and financial tools that work.

Coordination matters because local implementation hinges on the regulatory frameworks that federal and provincial governments develop. To move forward locally, municipalities need to know what's coming-and we have frontline expertise to share. And while coordination has been uneven, we see it improving, and we need that to continue.

Financial tools matter because implementing this federal government commitment will impose major new costs on municipalities. To keep Canadians protected-at launch and for the long term-those costs need to be sustainable. So FCM has been working on the math, based on evolving information from provinces and consultations with our members nationwide.

Our best projections pin those local costs at $3-4.75 million annually per 500,000 residents. This is money municipalities don't have and cannot raise on their own. That's why FCM has proposed flowing one-third of cannabis excise tax revenues to local governments. Based on the Parliamentary Budget Officer's cannabis revenue projections, one-third will go a long way toward making those local enforcement and operational costs sustainable.

Initially, the federal government had proposed a 50/50 revenue split with provinces. So we were encouraged to see Ottawa respond to FCM by sharing 25 more points with provinces-for a 75-25 split-specifically to support municipalities. This has launched an important conversation among orders of government toward achieving that fair municipal share.

The federal commitment to legalize cannabis has always carried a federal responsibility to ensure all orders of government have the tools they need to follow through. So if cannabis revenues start lower than hoped, or if local costs exceed FCM's projections, Ottawa will need to find other ways to ensure those costs are covered. But the great advantage of revenue-sharing is the planning stability it offers all orders of government.

We all know that cannabis legalization requires a strong federal-provincial-territorial municipal partnership. Over the last couple of years, we have seen that partnership grow stronger on infrastructure and affordable housing. From FCM's perspective, what we have now is an opportunity to get this partnership right by building in the right financial tools from Day 1.

With the right tools, local governments will be ready to answer the tough questions and reassure Canadians that they'll be safe and well-served in a world of legal cannabis

Jenny Gerbasi is Deputy Mayor of Winnipeg and President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the national voice of municipal government, with nearly 2,000 members representing 90 per cent of Canadians. 

For more information, please contact: 
FCM Media Relations, (613) 907-6395,


Page Updated: 22/01/2018