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Region talks marijuana

Council split on whether cannabis should be legalized, but agree on where money from its sale can go


Regional councillors are split on whether the federal government should legalize marijuana, but could agree that Ottawa should be paying out extra money for social and housing issues should they arise as a result.

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

Councillors may not agree on whether marijuana should be legal, but they could all agree on where money stemming from its sale should go.

Regional councillors passed a resolution calling on the federal government to provide more money for social and housing issues that may arise from the legalization of recreational marijuana.

That came in the form of an amendment by councillors Joe Neal and John Neal to a motion supporting a report from Sudbury’s health board on the prospect on legalized marijuana.

Clarington councillor Joe Neal says that while he would like to see money come from Ottawa for added social spending, he’d rather not see marijuana legalized at all.

“I don’t support legalization. With all the challenges that young people have with completing their education, getting a job, the last thing you need is to promote that…smoking pot is fine,” the Clarington regional councillor said in council chambers.

“Call me a dinosaur or whatever you want to call me, but I think it’s wrong. But when you don’t have the advantages of Justin Trudeau and you’re struggling to complete your education or looking for a job, that’s the last thing you need. I guess this is the direction they’re going to go, but in my mind, there’s going to be higher social housing costs. Unfortunately, I think it leads to other issues. Maybe you don’t stop at pot, maybe you go on to other things. And I’m sure that’ll be the next discussion, about how cocaine maybe isn’t all that bad.”

However, not all councillors were on board with the idea that legalizing marijuana would lead to more problems.

“While I understand where some individuals may be coming from in terms of their concern, most studies show that criminalization of marijuana actually leads to harsher sentences for young people, particularly those from certain demographics, and that it actually harms those individuals in terms of having criminal records for petty drug charges,” Amy McQuaid-England, an Oshawa regional councillor, said. “Also in countries where marijuana is legalized or decriminalized, the amount of programming that is used to support education for young people actually shows that it decreases the amount of use in those that are underage because it starts to limit the criminal activity. It’s a lot easier for a teenager or someone under age to purchase illegal marijuana than it is for them to purchase or obtain alcohol.”

The amendment later passed unanimously after councillors came to an agreement to its wording, which would call on the federal government to increase social spending only if it was shown that costs were rising because of legalized marijuana.

Oshawa councillor John Aker was the lone councillor not to vote, citing a conflict of interest.

Earlier in the session of council during the force’s annual update, Police Chief Paul Martin says that Durham police will enforce the law that is passed by the government, but added that he and other police forces across the country are keeping an eye on how things are proceeding.

“The (Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police) has indicated their position on that, and I don’t differ from it. At this stage of the game, I’d have to see more of what’s being proposed. With the use of medical marijuana, we have seen some issues with that, specifically around the transport of it,” Martin said. “As it stands right now, the government responds to…what the community wants at a given time, and as I said, as a police service we will enforce the laws that the government has.”

In 2013, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police passed a resolution calling for more options to deal with enforcing current marijuana laws, including making possession of 30 grams or less a ticketable offence as opposed to a criminal one, as it would reduce policing and court costs.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Bill Blair, the former Toronto police chief and now MP for Scarborough Southwest, would be leading the marijuana legalization file.

As part of an election promise, Trudeau said he would look at loosening the laws around marijuana, with the Liberal Party’s platform stating that “arresting and prosecuting these offenses is expensive for our criminal justice system. It traps too many Canadians in the criminal justice system for minor, non-violent offenses. At the same time, the proceeds from the illegal drug trade support organized crime and greater threats to public safety, like human trafficking and hard drugs,” and that the country’s current laws don’t keep marijuana out of the hands of young people.