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Cannabis Assumptions

I've had many great conversations about potential cannabis bylaws. However, it strikes me that we should backup. What are the assumptions we are carrying into this conversation? We should establish these before talking about the specifics of regulation.

Council will be debating and voting on Cannabis bylaws on May 22. As I do before every meeting, I'll be summarizing and providing my take on the agenda (checkout But before I start crystallizing specific conclusions, I'd like to explain the lenses I am currently approaching this topic with.

Following are the assumptions I have formed about cannabis' likely community impact and the role of municipalities in regulating it. I'm sure everyone who reads this will agree with some assumptions while vigorously disagreeing with others. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please let me know where I am right. Just as importantly, please poke holes in my thinking where appropriate.

Following are assumptions I currently hold about cannabis:

  • Municipal governments should not prohibit something that senior levels of government permit. The Federal government is making cannabis legal. In response, the Alberta government has adopted a liberal approach to its regulations. These governments are higher authorities than City Council. If Council disagrees with senior governments, we have the right and duty to advocate for change. However, when it comes to actually creating bylaws, we need to submit to existing frameworks. This means that no matter what personal opinions we hold, Council must permit reasonable opportunities for the production, sale, and use of recreational marijuana.
  • Municipal governments still maintain a regulatory duty. While reasonable opportunities need to be provided for, municipal governments do need to provide some oversight. The Municipal Government Act (Section 3) specifically tasks municipalities to "develop and maintain safe and viable communities." Furthermore, section 7 gives Councils the ability to make bylaws for "the safety, health, and welfare of people," respecting activities in or near places open to the public, and in response to nuisances. Council has the right and responsibility to create reasonable regulations which will promote local health, protect the community's enjoyment of public spaces, and limit disruptive behaviour.
  • Legalization does not provide a substantial threat to our community. Cannabis is already being consumed by a wide variety of ages and demographics in Grande Prairie. Furthermore, alcohol is already legal and widely used. While drinking certainly creates problems in our community, I have seen no evidence that cannabis creates worse social outcomes than we already accept with alcohol.
  • Cannabis stores are unlikely to create localized crime or nuisances. I've been researching the impact of cannabis retail in other jurisdictions. My most enlightening opportunity was a chance to have lunch with the San Diego Chief of Police while I was on vacation. From what I have read and heard, patrons and staff of retail locations have not generated significant problems or complaints while at stores. The significant problems encountered have involved criminals robbing retail locations. However, in the US, stores are more likely targets of theft as conflicting federal/state laws have required them to do much of their business in cash. Furthermore, the province is requiring stringent security measures, including video surveillance and strengthened storage areas. I don't believe our retail locations will pose significant security risks to their neighbours. The only localized issues I think retail locations will create are those surrounding public perception of a neighbourhood or of our City.
  • Legalization should still be approached with great thought and some caution. While I don't think that cannabis legalization will have a hugely negative impact, I don't know that for certain. Canada is treading into new waters, and we have different cultures, economies, and social systems than other jurisdictions where legalization has already occurred.  Cannabis' impacts are unknown. It is worth giving legalization great thought and robust public debate. Regulations should also be created with some degree of caution.
  • Cannabis use is not consequence free: education is important. Consuming any drug, especially through inhalation, creates health risks. The biggest risks surrounding cannabis use have to do with mental health. It can have negative impacts on developing brains. Even in fully developed brains, it can stimulate mental health problems in some individuals. It is important for people in our community to be educated about the risks surrounding cannabis.
  • Youth should not consume cannabis and normalization is a concern. It will be illegal for anyone under 18 to consume cannabis. More importantly, cannabis can have negative outcomes for developing brains. Youth should not be using recreational cannabis. As we create opportunities for retail and consumption, we should be asking "will this create a higher likelihood of youth use due to normalization?" Unfortunately, I have had troubles finding any definitive research about how normalization for youth encourages or discourages use. I'd love to see any studies or articles that are floating out there...
  • Legal home cultivation does not carry substantial risk. Federal rules limit home cultivation to four plants per residence, ban dangerous manufacturing processes, and require measures to prevent theft and youth access. If followed, these rules are adequate to ensure safe home cultivation. The municipality does not need to impose greater restrictions. That being said, I'm undecided on how active municipalities should be in helping enforce compliance to federal rules...
  • Prohibition doesn't work and black markets are dangerous- legitimate retail has an important role. Cannabis is prohibited now, and it is still widely used throughout our community, including by young people. Users currently attain it through the black market. This creates support for organized crime, unreliable content in product, and opportunities to purchase more dangerous drugs. It is much more desirable for people to purchase cannabis from a legitimate, regulated retailer than from a black market dealer. Furthermore, if legitimate retailers succeed in competing the black market out of business, this will likely make it more difficult for youth to attain cannabis.
  • We cannot ban public consumption all together. Going back to my first assumption, I believe that municipal governments should submit to senior governments by providing reasonable opportunities for consumption. This means that those who are passing through town or who live in multi-family houses where smoking is banned need public places to consume cannabis.
  • There should be some limits on public consumption. Just as there are limits on public consumption of alcohol, there should be limits on public consumption of cannabis. My biggest concern is normalization for youth- parents should have large control over if and how their children are exposed to consumption, which is impossible without limits on public use. I also have concerns about nuisance behavior and odour if public use is completely unregulated. 
  • Too strict of limits on public consumption are counter-productive. Municipalities cannot regulate medical consumption, only recreational. That being said, I am optimistic that the majority of medical users will respect municipal limits if they are reasonable. Furthermore, even recreational users will frequently ignore rules if they are overly restrictive. The City needs to be reasonable and selective in where it bans public use. This will give us the best opportunity for compliance to and enforcement of limits in areas where public use has the biggest potential for social costs. 
  • "But we don't do that for alcohol or tobacco" is a poor reason to reject a specific regulation. Cannabis is different than both substances. Additionally, there may be instances where we should consider increasing rules regarding other substances rather than toning down rules about cannabis.
  • I'd rather have retailers and producers setup inside City limits than just outside. I'm always happy to see new business in the City as it builds the tax base, allowing existing taxpayers to pay less. However, in this industry, encouraging businesses to be within City limits has additional importance. The City has no regulatory control over stores that are outside its jurisdiction, which means that our already minor ability to limit any social consequences is eliminated. Additionally, impaired driving becomes a greater concern if people need to travel further to retailers.
  • In the long term, legalization is unlikely to cost the City large amounts of money. The City has had to spend large amounts of money (mostly in the form of staff time) to create a regulatory framework. These costs will continue as we adjust our rules to new information and in response to changes in federal or provincial legislation. However, once our approach to cannabis is solidified, there are unlikely to be large ongoing costs to the City. In fact, I'm hopeful that legalization will save the City money due to requiring less resources for enforcement.
  • The province should share revenue with municipalities. The provincial government will likely profit from cannabis due to its monopolies on wholesale to retailers and online sales to consumers. Furthermore, the federal government has announced a 10% tax on retail sales of cannabis. The Feds will retain 25% of this tax up to a maximum of $100 million while distributing the remainder to provinces and territories. In its budget, the federal government said "it is [our] expectation that a substantial portion of the revenues from this tax provided to provinces and territories will be transferred to municipalities and local communities, who are on the front lines of legalization." At the very least, the province should contribute to the upfront costs of municipalities as they create regulatory frameworks. I also think it is reasonable to expect the province to re-invest the money it makes from local retailers into the local community.

Those are the assumptions I currently have about legalization. I'd love to hear your thoughts- I'm very open to having my mind changed.

For now, I'd suggest that we stick to talking about underlying assumptions rather than weeding into discussion about specific regulations. There will be time to debate specifics once the draft bylaws are released. But that discussion will be more productive if we have already talked about our bigger-picture views.

Bye the way: if you enjoy conversations like this, you should checkout the GP Round Table Facebook group- we have great discussions in it.

Thanks for reading!