The most dramatic debate around the Nelson council table this year? Transit? Housing? Taxes? Nope

Year in Review No. 4: When THC hits the fan

The idea of decriminalizing marijuana in BC unleashed the greatest furor around the Nelson city council table in recent memory.

Part of the Star’s look back at the top stories of 2012.

While Washington state voters approved decriminalizing marijuana this year, the idea of supporting a similar initiative in BC unleashed the greatest furor around the Nelson city council table in recent memory.

In June, councillor Donna Macdonald introduced a motion asking the mayor to join eight of his counterparts in backing Stop the Violence BC — a coalition of academics, law enforcement officials, and others hoping to “starve organized crime of the profits they reap as a result of [marijuana] prohibition.”

An impassioned Mayor John Dooley, however, said he would do no such thing.

“I won’t be signing this,” he said in an uncharacteristic outburst. “If it is asked of me, I won’t, based on the mountain of information I have come up with … I believe it will have a negative impact on our community.”

“I don’t believe it lessens the safety of our community,” councillor Deb Kozak replied. “When alcohol was regulated it did stop a lot of violence. The gang warfare ended.”

“Prohibition brought us all these problems,” councillor Paula Kiss agreed. “I’m saying please let us be leaders in coming up with a better system.”

Dooley, however, insisted he was showing leadership, and wanted more information before supporting the campaign. “I’ll go to the wall on this,” he said.

Macdonald’s motion passed, with councillor Candace Batycki also in favour and Dooley opposed along with councillors Robin Cherbo and Bob Adams. But Macdonald suggested deferring her motion until after the Union of BC Municipalities convention in September, which Cherbo and Dooley felt was the proper venue for the debate.

At the convention, a resolution asking the federal government to decriminalize and regulate marijuana passed. “The Union is generally fairly conservative,” Macdonald said, “so to see delegates supporting decriminalization sends a very clear image that it is not a fringe issue.”

Stop the Violence BC also refuted some of the mayor’s comments.

“The situation simply is not working and we need to have a sober and adult conversation that gets away from the rhetoric and ideology that got us stuck in the quagmire we’re in,” Dr. Evan Wood, a professor of medicine at the University of BC, told the Star.

When the issue returned to Nelson council soon after, cooler heads prevailed and a much more subdued discussion took place. In fact, there was little debate as council adopted Macdonald’s revised motion, endorsing the UBCM position.

But Dooley said many questions remained, including actual cost savings on policing through decriminalization and whether municipalities will see any return on taxation. And though a majority of local governments support change, he doesn’t expect to see it anytime soon.

For his part, Nelson police chief Wayne Holland saw Stop the Violence as contributing to an important dialogue. “Proposals such as this start a conversation,” he said. “They rejuvenate a debate that has been going on for decades.”

Holland doesn’t expect this proposal or any other to offer a magic solution, but thinks it may contain some worthwhile strategies.

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