By Trevor Busch
Taber is banding together with other Alberta municipalities in their disapproval of the funding levels the province has announced to assist with transition to a legalized cannabis environment.
Correspondence was received from Mayor Barry Morishita, Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) president, providing background to the recent provincial government announcement regarding cannabis revenue sharing under the Municipal Cannabis Transition Program (MCTP).
Announced in mid-October, the MCTP program will provide $11.2 million over two years to Alberta’s eligible municipalities. The province has a 16.8 per cent excise tax in place on all wholesale cannabis products, which works out to roughly .75 cents per gram for the province and .25 cents per gram for the federal government.
“This deal will hurt all municipalities and places the costs of legalization on the backs of Albertans, while the provincial government pockets the funds collected,” reads a statement in Morishita’s letter which was submitted to council at their Nov. 13 regular meeting. “The federal government has been clear that 75 per cent of the Cannabis Excise Tax will go to provinces to share with municipalities according to shared responsibilities. But as today’s MCTP outlines, over 215 Alberta municipalities will not receive any funds collected from that excise tax. Only 52 municipalities will be eligible for funding — funding that is inadequate and conditional on a grant application process that includes a reporting process full of red tape.”
Morishita was requesting a letter be submitted to Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter requesting immediate action calling on the ministers of Municipal Affairs, Treasury Board and Finance, and Justice and Solicitor General to rescind the program and invite AUMA back to the table to discuss distribution of excise funding to all municipalities in a manner that “respects the role municipalities will play during legalization.”
“AUMA has indicated that the deal that has been offered to urban municipalities is inadequate, based off of the information provided in the RFD,” said CAO Cory Armfelt. “Administration is wondering if we should move forward as requested by AUMA indicating the Town of Taber’s lack of satisfaction with that arrangement.”
AUMA has been advocating for municipalities to receive a fair share of the province’s excise tax revenues as part of a “user pay” model to cover the costs associated with legalization. Municipalities have been tasked with community education and enforcement, including responding to complaints of consumption in prohibited areas. These costs will be paid out of municipal budgets, instead of taxes collected from cannabis sales.
Under the new MCTP, eligible expenses include municipal administration costs directly related to cannabis legalization, including land use bylaws and permitting, education and marketing regarding local rules for cannabis consumption, and administrative and enforcement staffing costs. Only a limited number of municipalities are eligible to apply for funding under the program, and only if they meet the criteria. Communities under a population of 5,000 will receive no support from the provincial government.
“I know you understand the gravity of the situation and how this deal the province is attempting to force upon us will hurt our communities,” continued Morishita in his letter. “Municipalities are being put in the unfair position of choosing between safe communities or increased taxes for our residents as the province downloads the costs of legalization onto us.”
Armfelt would point out that the town stands to receive additional provincial funding due to the fact the community maintains its own police force, but that funding is also considered to be inadequate.
“Through the Solicitor General’s office there is money that is being granted to municipalities, specifically Taber, because we are a police service for the training of officers. I believe this is unrelated to that, or in addition to that. What has been promised in that program from the Solicitor General is certainly not to the satisfaction of the Taber Police Service, including the chief, or myself as a representative of the police commission, to cover the costs of training the officers adequately.”
Following discussion, council voted unanimously to accept the information provided by the AUMA and Mayor Barry Morishita regarding the AUMA response to the Municipal Cannabis Transition Program, and authorized correspondence applicable to municipalities over a 5,000 population be submitted to Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter.