By Trevor Busch
The Town of Taber will be leading the charge in pressuring the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association to lobby the federal and provincial governments to exclude Alberta from the implications of Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act.
A resolution adopted by council calls on the AUMA to petition the Governments of Alberta and Canada to not allow the Cannabis Act to pertain to municipalities in the Province of Alberta.
With a cannabis legalization date scheduled for mid-2018, Bill C-45 is intended to liberalize the sale and possession of the currently restricted substance.
“When, and if, cannabis is legalized in Canada, how can we enforce this bylaw without stepping on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?” questioned Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux at council’s June 26 meeting. “If it comes down to we can decide as a municipality not to have the sale of cannabis and associated accessories here in town, and someone is caught smoking recreational marijuana, can they not claim that it’s been legalized by the Canadian government that we’re infringing on their Charter rights with our bylaws?”
CAO Cory Armfelt appeared uncomfortable providing advice on an issue of constitutional legality with regard to restricting access to the substance at a provincial or municipal level if it has been legalized federally under the Criminal Code.
“I am not a lawyer, nor would I want to answer that question without a lawyer’s recommendations in my hand. But there are a number of things which are not permitted in the Town of Taber and many other municipalities, which somebody might argue is a legal right to pursue, but because of a community standards issue are not contemplated in our bylaws.”
Coun. Joe Strojwas suggested the issue would be unlikely to fall afoul of the Charter, citing some past precedents on other issues.
“This would be no different than any community outlawing the sale of alcohol, not allowing VLT gambling, so I don’t see where it would infringe on anybody’s rights and freedoms. I’m in favour of no marijuana, not municipalities having their own choice in the matter.”
According to administration, Mayor Andrew Prokop had requested that council consider endorsing a resolution to be forwarded to the AUMA from the Town of Taber, regarding the Cannabis Act.
Two resolutions were put forward for consideration by council.
The first — which was not adopted by council — would have called on the AUMA to petition the Government of Alberta to allow individual municipalities to restrict, strictly regulate or control access to cannabis and cannabis-related products, distribution, sale, possession and public use, ensuring that the product’s licit use be solely governed by the individual municipality.
“It goes a lot deeper than that. This is basically looking for a resolution that we’re suggesting as the Town of Taber to put forward to the AUMA conference to ask for their support as a province to make that stand,” said Mayor Andrew Prokop. “The question came up, that I actually asked, why have we not taken a stronger stance as a province to stand against this. There’s some mixed opinions, yes, but I honestly think the AUMA has a certain obligation to speak out, and they have not. This all came up fairly recently. I have talked to several (municipalities) in this area. It’s probably not fair to name names at this point, but I have talked to several that are in full support, as well as our MLA.”
Both proposed resolutions argued that the introduction and first reading of Bill C-45 by the Government of Canada has instigated a process by which a “significant extra burden and responsibility could be placed on communities to govern and direct a legal framework associated with the legalization and regulation of cannabis, thereby decreasing the capacity of the municipality to deal with other situations should they arise.”
“Both of them have some merit, but I think if we’re wanting to have something passed, I think we’d have more of chance with the first one, giving each municipality and community control over what they want,” said Coun. Jack Brewin. “An example of that would be Cardston with no sale of alcohol. They do that, they decide what they want in their community. I’ve spoken before, I think it’s a bad thing to have, but which would we win? It comes down to that.”
Prokop expressed frustration that the AUMA has yet to take a stance on the issue.
“I’ve researched everything I could find with AUMA in the past year plus, there’s nothing there. Nothing there to support taking a stance, speaking out against the legalization of marijuana. Now why is that? That’s a problem to me, there’s something missing there. I almost think we’re obligated as a province to speak out if that’s how we feel. And yes, there’s a following to have this legalized, but it’s mixed, and it’s not necessarily one side or the other. In fact the latest poll I saw was 51 per cent wanted it to pass as a law. All things considered, if that’s most recent and accurate figure, that’s pretty tight.”
Coun. Randy Sparks, who has strongly attacked Bill C-45 in the past, was pleased that the Town of Taber will be taking a lead in municipal efforts to prevent legalization at the grassroots level in Alberta.
“I’m very happy with the mayor and administration in the stance they’ve taken on the legalization of marijuana. As Mr. Shields (Bow River MP) said here a while ago about the train, and stopping the train. Even if we put some speed bumps in front of that train, we need to show the province that the Town of Taber is willing to do its best to make sure that this doesn’t come into our town, or this province. I don’t know if it’s right that a letter from the town is sent to AUMA, just letting them know that we’re a little bit disappointed in its non-stance on this issue, because as the mayor said, if it was something different AUMA would have been yelling and screaming ages ago, as soon as they heard something about this. I think they might be a little bit afraid to take a stance on this. But the Town of Taber isn’t afraid to take a stance on this, because we need to do the best we can to stop this from happening. Just because the government in charge, or our prime minister, has said that they’re going to legalize, it doesn’t mean that it’s right.”
Following discussion, at their last regular council meeting in June town council voted unanimously to authorize a resolution resolving that the AUMA petition the Government of Alberta, and further the government of Canada, to not allow the Cannabis Act to pertain to municipalities in the Province of Alberta, and requested administration forward the resolution to the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) chief executive officer of the AUMA board for consideration by the Municipal Governance Committee for furthering to the annual convention. Coun. Rick Popadynetz was absent from the meeting.
The 2017 AUMA Convention will be Nov. 22-24 at the TELUS Convention Centre in Calgary.