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Municipalities fear unexpected costs once pot becomes

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

Marijuana (File photo)

Marijuana (File photo)

SIMCOE - 

Members of Norfolk council are wondering if Justin Trudeau’s pipe dream is about to become their budget nightmare.

The recreational use of marijuana becomes legal in Canada July 1. Municipalities across Ontario are wondering what the unintended consequences will be and whether they – as the front-line level of government -- will be called upon to deal with the fallout.

“Everything is up in the air and it’s all guesswork at this point,” Simcoe Coun. Peter Black said Monday. “But these things always seem to end up as a download.”

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) has looked into the matter and tried to anticipate the future. AMO shared its concerns with Ontario’s Standing Committee on Justice Policy Nov. 30.

In its presentation, AMO says the province and federal government can expect added demands on services provided by police, bylaw enforcement, health units and fire inspections.

AMO representatives told the committee that municipalities need to share in tax revenue generated from recreational sales commensurate with their impact on municipal services.

“Property taxpayers should not pay for any part of the federal and provincial legalization framework,” Lynn Dollin, deputy mayor of Innisfil and president of AMO, said.

“These costs need to be fully funded by the governments putting new burdens on municipal governments.

“Without cost recovery, municipal governments will have to rob other services and investments to pay for it. You do not want us to say that roads cannot be repaired, that playgrounds or new childcare spots will not happen because we have cannabis to deal with now. Do not let this be an unfunded mandate. Do not short-change us with not enough cost recovery.”

Federal and provincial finance officials met this month to discuss how they would divide the revenue from recreational marijuana sales. The parties agreed that the provinces should receive 75 percent of the revenue.

How big the pie will be remains to be seen. Authorities are talking about a price point in the range of $10 a gram.

The Trudeau government’s goal in legalizing recreational marijuana is to squeeze out the black market and the criminal element that profits from it. The more successful this strategy, the more money that will roll in as revenue.

But Norfolk officials have already identified areas where this could cause issues.

A big concern is odour. Local politicians and county officials have fielded numerous complaints over the past year from residents who say the pungent, skunky aroma from legal medicinal operations is unbearable.

Residents have complained because they can’t open their windows or sleep due to the smell. There are also complaints about the glare of grow lights and noisy mechanical equipment.

Norfolk is preparing land-use policies that include inspection powers to combat the problem of incompatible land uses and quality-of-life issues. Norfolk’s marijuana task force will report its findings and recommendations in the new year.

“We’re ahead of the curve,” Norfolk Mayor Charlie Luke said Monday. “We have to find a way – if these things are going to be legal – that they have to be compatible with the surrounding community. They can’t have the smell to the magnitude that they do now.”

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com