Mayor’s corner: What we did on the cannabis issue, and why we did it

Tyler Warman
Mayor of Slave Lake

The last few weeks have been a blur. So much going on it has been crazy. Normally I’m struggling for ideas for columns, and now I’m struggling to find the time to write them as I have multiple items I need to let the public know about.

We recently attended AUMA with elected leaders from all over the province. We had some phenomenal meetings with ministers and some big announcements. The fire hall recently hosted CVFSA conference, with 300 delegates from across Canada and Japan! Council recently held strategic planning, created a new mission statement and has a new direction for the next few years. Additionally, right after thanksgiving, council starts budget. I have enough topics to get me through the rest of the year for sure.

This week, though, Slave Lake made history with the passing of some cannabis bylaws. I want everyone to know what we decided and how it affects you.

There were essentially two bylaws we debated and passed. One was around the retail sale of cannabis, the other around use of the product. First off … consumption. We adopted a similar policy to alcohol. You can’t walk down the street or sit in a park and drink a beer. Cannabis will be the same. What you do on your own property is your business but it will not be allowed in public. This seems easy enough, but there was a lot of discussion and debate amongst council about the odour associated with cannabis as well. How do we respect neighbours that don’t want to smell it? We debated equipment and legislation over the past several months that could play a part, but in reality we opted for a common sense approach. We do have two bylaw officers that will respond to complaints, but we do not have 24/7 coverage. We have provisions within the bylaw that allow us to “encourage” and if necessary “ticket” people who do not respect their neighbours. That being said we are hopeful common sense will prevail and this will not be a monumental issue. I also understand common sense will have to apply to both neighbours.

Secondly, from the retail side. Council passed a bylaw allowing cannabis sales in Slave Lake. We are confining the sale of it to commercial districts with a 50 m setback from schools and provincial health facilities. This was a hugely debated topic and we got a tonne of feedback from the public. We recently held a survey getting over 700 responses and at the result was roughly a 50/50 split. A big thank-you to Heather and Harry Bartlett who showed the benefits of increasing the distance and to Cindy Boisvert for illustrating what effect that has on business. In the end Council voted 6-1 in favour of 50m. Although I can’t speak for all of councillors’ individual reasonings, I will share mine. I have never used cannabis. Have friends that did, have seen it before, but I lived out of town, didn’t party much, worked a lot and my parents were strict so I never crossed paths with it much. Now that is legal, realistically I don’t think that is going to have an effect on my consumption use, but I respect that the Federal Gov’t. made a decision and that a number of people in our region are excited for the change. I also realize it has existed in our community long before I was born. I am concerned about the cannabis you can buy illegally (along with other drugs) and the ingredients they add to it. Opioids as an example, are killing people every day. My thought…If cannabis exists here, and the gov’t. is providing a regulated safer alternative to people that want to use it, then I shouldn’t make that extremely difficult to do.

In reality, the cannabis discussion has only begun. We have years ahead of us understanding the social benefits and social issues that come with its use. What impact it has on economy has yet to be measured. Finally, the courts have years of trial and error, debate and decisions ahead of them. Couple that with the nightmare our RCMP and Peace Officers have dealing with enforcement and it’s easy to see why some people are so passionate that it shouldn’t be here.

Knowing I don’t have much a say in that, I do like to look at the positives. I am encouraged and excited to see as use and study expands, a greater depth of understanding in its role in regards to medicine and pain management.

The road ahead looks cloudy. What is most apparent, is that this journey has just begun.

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