Nelson BC holds telephone town hall on cannabis reform

Thousands attend Kootenay MP’s over-the-phone panel discussion about legalization

Exactly one month before the federal government announced the details of the new Cannabis Act, a group of panelists was assembled by the NDP’s Wayne Stetski, Member of Parliament for B.C.’s Kootenay—Columbia riding. The group was assembled to discuss the implications of the then-anticipated regulations, and to engage with community members in the Kootenay region through a telephone town hall. Thousands of residents from cities and towns in the region called in to participate.

In addition to the host, Wayne Stetski, the panel included Nelson’s mayor Deb Kozak, the executive director of the East Kootenay Addiction Services, Dean Nicholson, and the owners of Kimberley-based dispensary Tamarack, Rod & Tamara Duggan. The RCMP were invited to participate, but respectfully declined.

After a brief introduction, Mayor Kozak opened the discussion by stating that the City of Nelson has opted to allow dispensaries to open immediately, with the anticipation that the law would be passed in fairly short fashion.

Nelson city council recently put into place a bylaw to regulate dispensaries, allowing up to six dispensaries to operate within the city. The bylaw is an interim provision while locals wait for the new federal regulations to be implemented, and will be repealed or amended to comply with federal regulations once the Cannabis Act takes effect.

Tamarack’s Tara Duggan offered a plea for B.C.’s small-business cannabis industry. "As independents,” she said, “the concerns that we have around the forthcoming legislation center around the independent ownership of dispensaries, and where we would fit into that when licensed producers want to have a monopoly on opening their own storefronts.”

The first call-in question posed to the panel asked, “Where will the money go? Once it goes back to the federal government, who gets it and where does it go?”

The answer came from Wayne Stetski, who inferred a preference toward that revenue helping to end homelessness, and bolstering senior strategy to reduce the struggles faced by seniors in their golden years.

A question asked both at the town hall and in headlines throughout the media over the past week was, “does marijuana affect driving?”

Stetski offered a response at the town hall, stating that the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the RCMP and municipal police have the right and ability to determine impairment from cannabis and other drugs. He added that police forces will be developing standard criteria for determining whether someone is impaired or not impaired.

Another caller lamented US border agents preventing canadians with cannabis charges from entering the US, as well as Canadians suffering in general from having criminal records. She went on to condemn the federal government’s four plant limit as “ridiculous, unless you want to pay expensive hydro bills.”

“I prefer to grow outside in the summertime and to grow enough for a whole year without using a lot of power,” she said, “and that would kind of ruin that.”

Questions then turned to the more technical, with a caller asking if any input has been received from the insurance industry.

Tamarack’s Rod Duggan fielded a response. "There are a couple insurance companies that recently rated smoking marijuana as less of a hazard than smoking tobacco,” he said, “and they don't beat up on your life insurance rates if you admit to using the product. It's starting to be a bit more prevalent among the conversations of insurers."

Still on the topic of finance, a caller asked if there are any plans to fund grants and subsidies to start some plantations and bring jobs to the West Kootenays.

Stetski indicated that the federal government is spending most of its time on regulating the product, adding, "I think that if we're looking to have a broader or more lenient system towards growers and expanding how that works, that would be a message that I would encourage you to take to the federal government."

At roughly the halfway mark of the telephone town hall, a break was taken from Q&A to put forward a poll to the thousands of callers listening on the line, asking whether they agreed with a set minimum age of nineteen years to buy cannabis.

Callers voted by pressing one of three keys on their phones, with the final results showing 53 percent of callers agreed with the age set at nineteen, 36 percent of callers believed the age should be lower, and 11 percent believed the age should be higher.

Returning to Q&A, a caller asked the panel, “Do you think there's been enough scientific work done on this?”

A question was also raised about monopolization. “Will legalization be squeezing out the mom & pop growers of the area,” asked a caller, “and will that have an effect on the economy in the Kootenays?”

Tamara Duggan replied, “I deal with a number of small growers that, due to the nature of the business, can't expand and can't openly hire people, because they have the fear of getting raided... Our huge concern is that the government make legislation open enough that growers can then rise up and become agricultural industry people, and not just be considered an underground industry.”

Touching more on the economic impact, Stetski added, "There was a study done that showed approximately 40,000 people in BC who would openly admit to being employed in the marijuana industry. That's 40,000 people who are looking to pay tax and get in on the legal side of the system, and if the large growers force that out that's definitely going to have a negative impact on the economy, and in British Columbia in particular."

Turning to the consumption side of things, a caller asked, “If cannabis was legalized, would you be allowed to smoke it in places where cigarettes are allowed, such as at a baseball game?”

Stetski responded, "smoking is smoking, and where smoking cigarettes is banned, smoking marijuana should likely be banned as well."

The regulations within the Cannabis Act seem to put that decision in the hands of provincial and municipal governments. Mayor Kozak pointed out that Nelson has a by-law prohibiting public smoking of any kind, which includes cannabis.

The final comment also came from Nelson’s Mayor Kozak, who said, “I would agree that this is a positive step forward, I think it's important we deal with this in a common-sense fashion. My concerns lie with the responsibility that falls on the shoulders of the local government in terms of enforcement and regulation. I'm looking to the federal government for profit-sharing as well, and by that I mean to assist local communities to be able to have the capacity to deal with it, and to also consult with local governments on how this legislation moves forward. I think it's really important that we have control over what happens in our communities and that citizens have a say in what's happening on the ground.”

Listen to the full recording of the telephone town hall.

View the full text of the Cannabis Act.

Featured image by Darren Kirby.

 

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