By Trevor Busch
Several members of town council are voicing strong opposition to the planned legalization of marijuana by the Trudeau Liberals in July 2018.
At their April 24 regular meeting, Bow River MP Martin Shields spoke as a delegation about some of the implications for municipalities of the federal government’s pot liberalization plan that was announced last month.
“One of the pieces of legislation, just before we left our session, was the piece on marijuana. I think we’re all well aware, it was an election promise of this particular government, and they’ve now introduced that,” said Shields. “The challenges that I see is that all three levels of government will be involved in this piece. The federal government is introducing it in very broad strokes. They do have some specifics in there, like only growing four plants in your house, you can’t be lower than (age) 18 to use it, but they will then turn to the 10 provinces and three territories to develop the next level of pieces.”
Shields currently serves as deputy chair of the federal Conservative Party’s Alberta caucus, and as a member of the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development.
“That’s going to be a challenge. For example, alcohol in Alberta is 18, Saskatchewan is 19, so we may end up with some different pieces between provinces at the next level,” continued Shields. “But then it gets down to municipalities, which comes into a whole different area of things that can affect municipalities. One, you’re the ones that develop the structure plans for your community, where businesses operate, the restrictions on hours — it comes down to you decide. Also, the enforcement piece, ends up in your world, how you enforce whatever these broad-stroke different pieces are.”
The proposed Cannabis Act would create a strict legal framework for controlling the production, distribution, sale and possession of cannabis in Canada. Following Royal Assent, the legislation would allow adults to legally possess and use cannabis, making the possession of small amounts of cannabis no longer a criminal offence, and is intended to prevent profits from going into the pockets of criminal organizations and street gangs.
“So there’s a number of pieces that come down to your legislative inspection,” said Shields.
“If they’re growing in the homes, is it for medical use or personal use? Do you have bylaws that cover medical use grow in homes? Are there inspections for the types of facilities that it’s in? There’s a lot of pieces that are going to work down to the municipal level, which is a large concern for me, because that costs municipalities. One of the things we talk about is enforcement. The breathalyzer test that we all now accept and know about, it took seven years before that finally got through the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court said that is a standard, validated test. So whatever process comes into effect, will be severely challenged in courts all the way to the Supreme Court. That’s an enforcement piece that municipalities are involved in enforcing.”
Shields and other MPs are working to have the Liberal’s legalization timeline (July 1, 2018) adjusted to prevent it from falling on the date of a national holiday.
“The other piece is your HR (human resources) in the sense that we have equipment and staff, and how does it affect those? We have that already in most of our HR policies, and drug testing, but how does this work for medical marijuana and staff? And so there’s going to be that whole review of your HR piece that has to be looked at as well. So there’s some challenges coming, I believe, at the municipal level, and part of our process, what we’re attempting to do — the government has said they want this implemented by July 1, 2018. We hope they don’t declare it legal on July 1, 2018, because for some of us that’s a national holiday in recognition of the founding of our country, and we’d prefer it not to be the same day as marijuana is declared legal.”
Coun. Jack Brewin, who recently returned from a trip to British Columbia, reported he was shocked by what he witnessed on the streets of Vancouver, a famously cannabis-liberal environment.
“I had a trip to Vancouver, and I just happened to be in Vancouver for 4/20 (April 20) which I had no idea was happening. It was unbelievable what I saw there, and if that’s what we’re facing in the future, this country is in a lot of trouble. There was pot like I’ve never seen in my life, bags of it on tables, like Cornfest times 20. That was the forefront — pot — but there was mushrooms available, there were other drugs available behind the counters.”
Brewin went on to describe the federal government’s legalization plans as the “biggest mistake” the country has ever made.
“So this is the biggest mistake, I believe, our country has made, allowing marijuana to be legalized. We’re opening a whole new Pandora’s box with this. And we’ve let it happen. It’s a mistake I think our federal government has made. I believe he (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) won the election because he promised all this stuff, and people don’t realize what’s going to happen with this, but I saw it first-hand in Vancouver. I could not believe what I saw there. People stoned walking down the streets after this, carrying marijuana plants.”
Cannabis is a harmful drug that can lead to abuse of other, more damaging substances, claims Brewin.
“Anyone that says it isn’t a gateway drug is fooling themselves and everyone else that listens to that. It’s a stepping stone to the drug world. I believe this is a mistake that we are making as a country in legalizing this. I honestly believe that we are opening something here that we can’t comprehend. People smoke pot, or whatever they want to do, I won’t judge you. But to throw it out there like the government’s doing, to make it acceptable and legal, I think is wrong.”
Following a comment from Shields hinting at the inevitability of the Liberal’s legalization plan in a majority government environment in Ottawa, Coun. Randy Sparks chastised the federal rep for his “defeatist attitude.”
“I don’t mean any disrespect, Mr. Shields, but I don’t like to hear that it’s coming and we can’t stop it. That is a defeatest attitude, and I particularly don’t appreciate that, because we can stop it, because this isn’t right. Just because the prime minister says it’s right, doesn’t mean it’s right. There’s huge issues with it in the States, there’s going to be huge issues here. We as residents of this great country, and this great province, have to quit sitting on our hands and stand up and say, ‘No’. This is not going to happen, because it’s a joke,” said Sparks. “And we should not sit back, and every politician in the country should be fighting this tooth and nail to make sure that this does not happen. We need to support you, Mr. Shields, in what you are doing to stop this train, because this train is a train that is going to be a big wreck, and a big disaster.”
Shields went on to suggest that municipalities may be able to take the step of banning the sale of marijuana inside municipal boundaries, not unlike the steps taken by a number of conservative religious communities in southern Alberta to prohibit the sale of alcohol.
“I think the next three or four years will be extremely challenging, and I agree that municipalities are going to be at the forefront, because you are going to have to deal with the different parts, the drivers, enforcement, communications, zoning. You are the level of government that is going to have to face the consequences of this. There’s one option that has been discussed, which I think is under the provincial mandate — whether municipalities have the option to not have it allowed in their municipality, as it is with alcohol, which is an option that municipalities have to explore.”
During the council requests portion of the April 24 meeting, council voted 4-1 to request administration and TPS Chief Graham Abela review current bylaws, policies, and procedures, as well as the funding for required resources, in relation to the passing of marijuana legalization in 2018.
Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux was the sole vote in opposition to the motion. Coun. Rick Popadynetz was absent, while former Mayor Henk DeVlieger resigned his position at the outset of the meeting.
In an amending motion at town council’s May 8 regular meeting, council voted unanimously to replace TPS Chief Graham Abela with the Taber Municipal Police Commission in reviewing current bylaws, policies and procedures.