Pubdate: Sat, 15 Oct 2016
Source: Daily Press, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 Sun Media
Author: Alan S. Hale
Page: 3


TIMMINS - So far this year, the Timmins Police have charged 20 people
with simple possession of marijuana, despite the fact that for the
past 12 months a federal government has been in office promising to
legalize recreational use of pot.

But the police are just enforcing the law, which says marijuana is
still illegal.

The federal government, however, has ignored calls from the opposition
to decriminalize it while the country works on figuring out how to
regulate, tax and sell it. So in the interim, nearly two dozen Timmins
residents have faced criminal charges for something the government
doesn't believe should be illegal.

That said, the Timmins Police have not exactly been cracking down on
marijuana users either. During the past two years, officers have used
their discretionary powers to decide against laying possession charged
against people found with marijuana on them 42% of the time.

"Not universally, but in some cases it's because there was a marginal
amount of narcotic that was seized at the time," explained police
spokesman Marc Depatie. "It also depends on the age of the person
being found in possession of marginal amounts of marijuana. Quite
often we're looking to take an educational approach to those

"We're not condoning drug use in any way when we take this approach,
but it's usually the amount of the narcotic that is the deciding
factor. And if the person doesn't have a criminal record, and this is
a one-time variance from what is a stellar level of comportment with
their community, then who are we to blemish that record?"

Those trafficking marijuana in Timmins are taken the most seriously,
said Depatie, because the police view them as engaging in organized
crime. And for all the criticism levelled against the idea of
punishing people for something the government plans to legalize,
Depatie pointed out it is ultimately the court's responsibility to
decide to go ahead with the charges and to come to a just solution
when they do.

"We have absolute faith that the court system will dole out the
appropriate consequences," he said. "I know there is a public
perception that a person was 'merely' possessing marijuana or some
other 'soft drug,' but I would argue that perhaps there is much more
going on that the public is not aware of that could lead to a very
firm penalty being imposed by the courts."

Going through the courts is never easy whether you're a marijuana user
or even a licensed producer like Robert Neron, who has been fighting
his way through the legal process for nearly half a year after his
growing equipment was seized and he was charged with marijuana
trafficking this spring.

The Moonbeam resident is a marijuana legalization advocate who hosts
the annual HempFest but was producing pot for his own use until the
police seized Neron's equipment when his production licence elapsed
during a conflict with Health Canada over getting it renewed.

The court system worked out for Neron, for the most part. He pleaded
guilty to the charges of trafficking, but because of the
circumstances, he was given a suspended sentence, which means he won't
even have a criminal record.

Now he is fighting to get his equipment back.

"I am still in courts, fighting to get my equipment that was ordered
to be returned in good condition within 30 days back in May 2016. But
five months later, I am still waiting," said Neron. "As we speak, no
one has yet made any effort to contact me or to make any kind of
arrangements out of court to settle this."

In Neron's opinion, the legalization of marijuana for recreational use
would bring many opportunities for Northern Ontario. He is hoping to
open up his own dispensary and vapour lounge in Moonbeam, called Chez
Willy's Place, which he plans to run as a non-profit

A system of not-for-profit dispensaries would be the ideal way to
distribute legalized pot, said Neron who is skeptical of the idea of
having it sold in government-owned liquor stores because pot has
medicinal uses that liquor does not.

"Cannabis users and alcohol should be in two completely separate
stores," he said. "One (the liquor store) you go to just so you can
purchase an intoxicant.

"A cannabis club, on the other hand, people come to better their
health situations, to better their days without harming themselves or
anyone else in the process."

For its part, the Timmins Police Service reinforces the stance taken
by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police who recommend giving
the police the ability to hand out tickets for possession of small
amounts of marijuana, rather than full legalization.

But Depatie noted that the police will always enforce the law,
whatever it happens to be.

Whatever the distribution model the province eventually decides upon,
it will be municipalities that will be the ones to put those rules
into practice inside their own communities and deal with whatever the
real-life consequences might be, or benefit from the economic

That's why Kapuskasing Mayor Al Spacek and a task force made up of
other mayors, and representatives from the health and private sectors
recently compiled a report with several recommendations for the
provincial to consider as it comes up with the framework for
dispensing legal marijuana.

"To the provincial government's credit, they have reached out to
municipalities to find out, primarily, what our opinions are, but what
impacts we foresee happening to our communities," explained Spacek.
"So we brainstormed and put together a report with the impacts,
opportunities, and challenges of legalization of marijuana."

It's important that the opinions of municipalities are considered,
said Spacek, because they provide the most services that impact the
daily lives of their residents, including policing, public health,
public safety, and addiction services.

When legalization happens, there will inevitably be a new set of
responsibilities put on municipalities that will come with their own
expenses. That's why the task force has recommended that a fixed
portion of the government's revenue from pot sales go directly to the
municipality where the sale took place.

"We want a clear, target portion that goes directly to municipalities.
Not just more of this 'don't worry about it, we'll take care of you,'
with the extra revenues. We want 'here is the revenue and here is the
percentage that is going to municipalities to go the costs of the
added responsibilities,'" he said.

While the task force didn't make any specific recommendation on how
marijuana should be distributed in Northern Ontario, Spacek points out
that selling it in the LCBO would bring in more money for the
government and for the municipalities. But being such large
operations, the money could get "lost" inside the LCBO.

"That's why there's perhaps a bigger economic benefit to splitting the
pie up a bit. I don't think we feel 100% of sales should go to just
one entity," said the mayor.

Kapuskasing is already taking its first steps into the marijuana
industry, with the planned establishment of a growing facility for
medical marijuana.

Spacek said there is an important distinction between marijuana grown
to be used in medicine and pot grown for recreational use, especially
since the medical plants may end up as a pill rather than something to
be smoked.
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