Yes, dear reader, I inhaled. While marijuana is no longer a part of my life, it has done me little harm, and has been a support for stress relief and even insight.
When the gavel came down to end last Monday’s council meeting, I exhaled. The debate around the motion to officially support the campaign of stoptheviolencebc.org was the most intense I have yet experienced during my short time on council, and I was left with many, many questions about what had just happened.
Since then, I’ve been puzzling a lot about process, politics and prohibition.
How was it that a motion that was clearly supported by four of seven failed to pass? I believe it was a failure of process. Nelson city council makes decisions using majority rules, as do all local governments in BC, and in fact most democracies. Under this system, it is important that once a decision is made, all members of council, including the mayor, support the decision whether they personally voted for it or not.
I have worked all my adult life with another decision-making process, known as consensus process. Consensus requires all parties to discuss, debate and persuade until a decision is reached that all can live with — not necessarily agree with, but live with, and support. If you can’t personally support a proposal but don’t want to stop the group from moving forward, you can stand aside. (In majority rules, a stand-aside is counted as an affirmative vote). In consensus process there is also provision for blocking a decision. This is done only in very rare instances when one or more members, after sufficient discussion and consideration, feel that the proposed action would contradict the group’s mission or violate the morals, ethics or safety of the group. A block prevents the proposed action from moving forward. I have rarely seen it used.
In consensus the discussion is ideally moderated by an impartial facilitator who does not participate in the decision, which prevents them from unduly influencing the outcome. In practice, especially in small groups, the facilitator may still participate in the decision, but someone who feels strongly about the issue is generally not given the facilitator’s role. In majority rules, the meeting is chaired by a voting member who may well feel strongly about the issue under debate.
So, which did we have Monday night? Neither. We had someone ostensibly chairing a majority rules meeting, but using a consensus tool to block an outcome, stating repeatedly that no matter the results of the vote, he would not support it. We had a process failure, which prevented us from being able to actually have a reasonable discussion.
So, we are now having the discussion on the streets, in the cafes, in our homes, in the media, everywhere I go. Everywhere. And this is a good thing.
In fact there are two discussions taking place. The discussion about marijuana prohibition, its impacts on our society and communities, and the merits of legalizing and regulating, has taken a back seat to the discussion about process and politics.
But it’s important that we also have the other discussion. Let’s hear from all sides of the long-running debate. Let’s hear from law enforcement, from diverse voices in the medical establishment and healing communities, from those growers that have the courage to speak up, and from all those who have been directly affected by prohibition.
The politics of prohibition are complex and difficult. There are interests that are heavily invested in the status quo. Years of prohibition have led to ingrained social stigma. It is deeply human to fear the unknown, to fear change.
We will never have complete community consensus on this or any issue. But we can debate and discuss, listen and consider, and then collectively do what we feel will be the best for the most, the test of any political decision.
Candace Batycki is a Nelson city councillor who shares this Wednesday space with her colleagues around the table.