Canadians who follow cannabis legalization have watched the rules pile up, first in the federal government's Cannabis Act, then in additional laws and restrictions from provincial and territorial governments.
Now, it's time for the third level of the regulatory layer cake — municipal law.
On Monday, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities released an extensive guide to legalization for municipal governments in Canada. The document outlines a host of areas where local policymakers can flex their government muscle and restrict cannabis-related activities and businesses.
Since FCM represents about 2,000 municipal governments across the country, the guide offers an early look at how local governments might treat cannabis after legalization.
"It's going to take a lot of effort to make this work... I think our communities we represent are looking forward to having more tools like this to figure it all out," said FCM president Jenny Gerbasi.
Even though cannabis cultivation licences are administered by the federal government, local governments generally have "no obligation to permit cannabis cultivation in specific areas," according to the guide.
For example, city halls across Canada could use their zoning powers to regulate production as form of agriculture, something several municipalities have already done as Canada's medical cannabis industry has proliferated.Advertisement
Local governments could also use zoning law to regulate the locations and numbers of retailers and commercial consumption sites such as lounges and even regulate the kinds of messages displayed on signs outside such businesses, the guide advises.
Apart from regulating where cannabis is grown or sold, municipalities could also impose rules on how those activities are conducted.
Although provincial and territorial governments are generally responsible for regulating cannabis distribution, municipalities can add their own rules around security restrictions, consumption, advertising, record-keeping, signage, hours of operation and nuisance-reduction measures.
A few cities in Canada have experience dealing with these issues. Vancouver, for example, already has bylaws regulating security measures at cannabis-related retail businesses, including surveillance cameras and alarm systems.
Among all the issues related to cannabis, the FCM guide says, home cultivation "has the potential to generate the greatest number of enforcement complaints" to a local government.
The federal government plans to let Canadian adults grow as many as four plants at home for their own recreational use, but two provinces — Quebec and Manitoba — plan to outlaw home cultivation.
According to the FCM guide, municipal governments could place their own restrictions on home cultivation by instituting their own licensing system.
"A registration system could help identify where cannabis production is actually occurring — though it is worth evaluating whether citizens would be likely to comply with such a requirement," says the guide.
Cities might also choose to deal with the impact of cultivation with local nuisance regulations on issues such as "odour-producing activities."
Local governments could also use zoning law to "prohibit the activity in all residences."
"It's all about keeping people safe and preventing any concerns in the community that could arise," Gerbasi said.
Provincial and territorial governments are already establishing laws about where Canadians will be able to consume cannabis, and cities and towns can go further — especially on municipally owned or managed land such as parks and community centres.
Special events that take place under municipal bylaws (4/20 celebrations, for example) could also be subject to local policies around cannabis consumption.
Local governments tend to be major employers, and they can choose to take responsibility for regulating how their employees use cannabis after legalization.
Municipalities and other employers, however, have to treat legal medical cannabis users with a certain amount of consideration, and can't simply assume those users are impaired.
The FCM guide advises municipalities to "update their substance use policies" to include cannabis, with a focus on impairment and fitness for work.
"A workplace standard requiring employees to show up fit for work is acceptable," says the guide. "Similar to alcohol or smoking, employers may be able to prohibit the consumption of cannabis for non-medical purposes while in the performance of one's employment duties or on a worksite."
Restrictions on cannabis consumption could be more strict for safety-sensitive workers, such as public transportation staff.
Wait and see?
Just because municipalities can add local restrictions and regulations doesn't mean they have to, said Gerbasi.
"In some cases it makes sense to actually see what kind of issues arise," she said. "Some communities are already just going to bring in the rules and strictly control zoning and land use, others are looking at (watching) for the first year or two how it works and what kind of issues come up, and then bring in amendments or changes that are needed to address actual problems that arise."