I welcome the opportunity to focus this column on an issue that has clearly generated much debate at both city council’s table and in our community.
The fact that the debate continues demonstrates exactly what I was concerned about, and that is the need for a thorough and informed discussion around the motion put forward by Councillor Donna Macdonald on June 11. I believe that all citizens are concerned about drug use and associated criminal activity, and that is common ground we share.
The wording of the motion as dictated by Councillor Macdonald: “Nelson city council support the adoption of a public health based regulatory approach to cannabis taxation and control, as proposed by the Stop the Violence BC and the mayor write the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, and the federation of Canadian Municipalities, the provincial and federal ministers in the justice and health departments, and Stop The Violence BC, to inform them of Nelson’s city council’s support.”
I realize that my passion around the issue may have impeded my responsibility to act as chairperson to the best of my ability.
To me, this is not only an issue about the legalization of marijuana, but rather an issue around process and how decisions are made at the council table. Anytime I see our community being put in a difficult position you can expect me to raise questions and advocate for thorough process. I have been proud of the record we have around process. In many cases, we have taken months to decide on certain directions. Some examples include: the City of Nelson’s water master plan, our city’s transit discussions, and the current Civic Theatre issue. We have had more community input on dogs and skunks.
I continue to be surprised by the fact that some people who have been strong advocates for thorough dialogue, community input and the seeking of advice from well informed experts did not bring those same values and expectations to this discussion.
I believe that an initiative such as this requires a thorough analysis of both the pros and cons of the proposal. What is being proposed is not within our jurisdiction and will not be possible unless senior levels of government are on board. Perhaps parts of the proposal could be looked at with a plan determined to evaluate impact.
Instead of having a thorough debate, council ended up with a motion put forward as part of a busy council agenda without so much as a presentation to council from the police chief, a public health officer, a social worker, a business person, a parent group or any of our school district councillors… and that’s just a short list.
There are other things to consider as well. For example, if marijuana is taxed will it be guaranteed that people in Nelson, or the average Canadian, is going to see evidence that the cash will go toward worthwhile initiatives that add value to our society? What other costs in terms of social and health pitfalls need to be thought about, such as the risk associated with smoking? I have heard some sources say that one joint has the same impact as seven normal cigarettes.
Councillors and citizens are reminded that when I sign on City of Nelson letterhead, I see that signature belonging to the people of Nelson.
If we are to return to this proposal I would like to see us move forward with a thorough discussion. I believe that we should request more input from previously noted experts so that council and the community can make a well informed decision on what has become a matter of considerable social and economic importance.
Councillor Robin Cherbo proposed what I thought was a reasonable solution by putting forward a motion to request that the province of British Columbia and the Union of BC Municipalities do additional policy research on this topic. The UBCM has the time and resources to ensure that a full discussion can be had by all municipal leaders.
At this point I feel that is where this issue belongs.
Mayor John Dooley shares the Wednesday council column with the rest of his colleagues around the table.