Above: Debate on a cannabis bylaw is at the 51.30 mark in the Town’s live strem of the council meeting.
by Colin Smith
Morinville may have a new cannabis control bylaw in place when consuming the substance becomes legal in Canada on October 17.
At its September 11 regular meeting Town Council passed a motion directing the administration to draft a bylaw that may include restrictions beyond those in federal and provincial cannabis legislation.
Not all councillors see the need for a bylaw, however, and the vote on the motion was split four-three.
In a presentation to Council, Enforcement Services manager William Norton explained that the Alberta government has introduced changes to control the sale and consumption of cannabis, in line with federal legalization policy.
Cannabis use is restricted to Albertans over 18, it cannot be consumed in a vehicle, and there are a variety of restrictions on where it can be consumed: it’s not allowed anywhere were tobacco is banned; at hospitals, schools or childcare facilities; and only at a prescribed distance from facilities where children are likely to be such as playgrounds, sports fields, outdoor pools and so on.
It’s left to municipalities to designate how far cannabis smokers must be from windows, air intakes, playgrounds and so on, as well as decide on whether further restrictions of cannabis use in public space are justified.
Norton said although the situation is not yet clear, it seems that without cannabis being covered by a bylaw community peace officers would have no jurisdiction to deal with it. All enforcement would be up to the RCMP.
“We’d be looking for some kind of direction,” he said. “If we are going to have a bylaw that would further restrict consumption or if we are going to defer to federal and provincial legislation.”
There would be an uproar in Morinville if public consumption of cannabis were permitted, said Councillor Laurence Giffin.
“I believe that the majority of the people in Morinville will be dismayed if people were walking down main street smoking pot – cannabis,” he said.
Giffin pointed to a survey done of St. Albert residents, presented to Council for information, in which 52 per of respondents favoured a ban on smoking and vaping of cannabis in all public places. St. Albert Council subsequently passed a bylaw forbidding all cannabis consumption in public.
“I think that our citizens are not that much different in believing that cannabis should be restricted to private property,” he said.
Taking the opposite view, Councillor Stephen Dafoe criticized the “kneejerk reaction” that has led to increased restrictions in other municipalities.
“This is not going, in my opinion, to turn into Reefer Madness or Fellini’s Satryicon,” he said.
Dafoe feels that provincial rules are good and that if bylaw coverage of cannabis is needed it can be done through the Community Standards Bylaw, with provision for designated cannabis consumption areas at public events and festivals.
“I don’t consume and I don’t intend to consume,” he added. “But the people I know that do consume, after a couple they are probably not going anywhere anyway.”
Mayor Barry Turner described informal discussions about the cannabis issue taking place among municipalities in the region.
“It’s looking like the majority of municipalities are looking at restriction to private property,” he said.
The motion to have the administration draft a proposed cannabis control bylaw was put forward by Councillor Sarah Hall.
Turner spoke in favour of the motion, stressing the importance of putting something in place that could be relaxed later, once the impact of legalization has become known.
“Being proactive is the right course of action,” he said.
Dafoe declared he would not support the motion.
“I’m very worried we’re going to be far too restrictive,” he said, noting that the Council had given the administration free rein in drafting the bylaw. He added, “When have we ever loosened a bylaw?”
When the vote on the motion was called, Mayor Turner, Councillors Nicole Boutestein, Giffen, and Hall were in favour, with Councillors Rebecca Balanko, Scott Richardson and Dafoe opposed.
Earlier in the meeting Chief Administrative Officer Stephane Labonne stated that the short timeline in which to draft and pass a cannabis bylaw before the October 17 meant there would likely be no opportunity for “exhaustive or meaningful” efforts to gauge public opinion on the issue.