Rhino's Ramblings: Cannabis Capers


Robert Thomas

For those of you who don't follow the news closely cannabis, marijuana, weed, grass, electric lettuce, sticky greens or whatever else it's called will be legal effective October 17th in Canada.
Sorry, the original target date of July 1st, Canada Day, didn't make it.

Whether you applaud it or fear the end of civilization from legalization, unless there is some major change of heart it's full steam ahead.

For Moose Jaw it means two legal retailers will be setting up shop. And legally, you or I (if you're 19 years of age or older) can walk into either of them, throw down our good hard earned cash and buy up to 30 grams and then take it directly to the legal place of consumption, which for most people means your home.

That is unless you live in a rental accommodation, where your landlord can legally say no and evict you if you decide to smoke, sell or grow it there - it doesn't matter whether it's for valid medical reasons or not.

Applaud it or decry that restriction of where you can legally buy and imbibe it's all part of changes brought forth by the Province. And if you live in social housing you will be prohibited from smoking in your home or outside on the grounds due to that being public place.

Legalization seems to be smoothly proceeding with regulations, criminal law and proper zoning falling into place. As someone said, cannabis will soon be like cigarettes when it comes to social acceptability - and we all know tobacco smokers are not treated as social pariahs but readily embraced and defended by the masses. But really is it all that simple?

On the Federal government's side there are three objectives: Legalize to get the profits out of the hands of criminal gangs, remove supply from those under 18 and finally ensure the cannabis out there is of a certain quality and not cut with other drugs.

The move towards legalization has corporations and others slobbering at the mouth as they see opportunity and riches beyond their wildest dreams just waiting to be tapped.

But in it all key words many cannabis supporters are missing is that legalization was meant to "displace" the criminal element and not expand the market. Given the reductions occurring in tobacco and alcohol use brought about by educational and legislative initiatives there is also the proviso that it could be a much more limited economic opportunity than its boosters foresee.

Even surveys are showing that in this province the marketplace is limited but whether those surveys hold up in reality is yet to be seen. Additionally, you will legally be able to grow your own, which might effect the economic and taxation potentials.

Here in a nut shell though is the problem I see with cannabis legalization. The federal government enacted the legislation to make recreational use legal. Then the actual roll out was passed down to the provinces where Saskatchewan in turn downloaded the responsibility as to where the pot shops can be located onto the municipalities. It all looks smooth and orderly but, really, is it? The thing is; where is the coordination between all three levels of government to effectively enact legalization's objectives?

If you take a look at the Moose Jaw experience what you really have are the zoning concerns of other centres reflected in our proposed bylaw.

The only real consultation has been whether or not to allow the retailers in the first place. After that it's been adopting and adapting our zoning to match what is happening elsewhere.

I am not faulting what Administration has recommended. It's actually standard practice. Our City routinely reaches out to see what other centres have done.

But really, where do you find the expertise when it comes to cannabis? Who can really tell you what has and has not worked when it comes to zoning?

And this is where it impacts the City of Moose Jaw. It's up to the City to design a system whereby you can offer easy accessibility to a legal product while at the same time keeping it out of the hands of those who are under aged (younger than 19) and the second most frequent user group following the 19-30 year old group. It's not going to be easy.

What I heard around Executive Committee though, in what may have been initial discussions, seemed to be rah rah when it came to cannabis. This is going to be great for business and, let's face it, hopefully the tax base. This is new money which is going to be flowing our way, that seemed to be a big incentive throughout this year's civic budget discussions.

So far it hasn't materialized but we as a city are stuck with additional policing costs trying to enact a Federal policy to eradicate a deeply entrenched black market. Something just doesn't seem right here now does it?

There was some serious consideration given to placement of the retailers to protect children and youth but for the most part Executive Committee was in a laissez faire mood and simply allow the marketplace to decide. Legalization is seemingly being viewed as an economic opportunity, a means to tap into what's being touted as a growth industry when really is it what's suppose to happen?

But this is where, at least for some in the community, it may have gone too far and it all can be summed up in two words: "youth centre", or more importantly, Joe's Place.

Due to what Executive Committee has so far voted on, it looks like the privately owned and funded Main Street youth centre is not going to have a buffer zone around it. If the present agreed zoning regulations, the ones agreed to in Executive Committee, were adopted as a bylaw, I would be free to open up a cannabis retailer right next door to Joe's Place (assuming the province licensed me).

Now if that doesn't shock you, it should, for one simple reason, or two words: "youth centre."
In a major report conducted into legalization and how to implement it properly, the University of Regina based Johnson Shoyama School of Public Policy made key recommendations that cannabis retailers be a minimum distance from all schools and youth centres.

The following are quotes from that report:

"Recommendation 33: Municipalities should develop zoning bylaws to limit the density of licensed retail outlets and their proximity of retail outlets to schools and youth centres."

"This is particularly important for protecting youth, who are less likely to use cannabis, or at least delay the age of first use, when they live further away from the source. Regulation of retail outlets should stipulate a minimum distance away from schools or other places frequented by youth."

It all begs the question: if a major goal of legalization is to keep it out of the hands of youth how could it seemingly be so lost when it all trickled down to the actual zoning bylaw?

Now, do I believe either of the two retailers will set up next door to Joe's? No, I don't; but if the Province grants more licences in future years it could potentially happen.

The problem with bylaws is this, once they are drafted, the odds of them being revisited for change at a later date is not always the best. Once bylaws, rules, regulations, laws or anything of the like are enacted their original intent seems to be eroded over time and they become entrenched as people soon forget. If there is no bylaw buffer now, at a later date the odds are there won't be one then either.

But is there any evidence that cannabis retailers attract youth? This is only anecdotal evidence but presently Moose Jaw already has an unlicensed cannabis dispensary it's located down on River Street. From my sources, you can only purchase cannabis there at $5 a gram with medical papers. It all sounds really great until you see who is hanging around outside in the evening. The 12-17 year old crowd are there.

I drove by on four separate occasions and on the last trip one of the teenagers shouted "He's closed, no dope tonight." For me it's obvious, even a facility which is trying to restrict its clientele to those who are ill is still attracting youth.

It leaves me personally asking if this is already happening in a quiet commercial area what could happen close to a youth centre?

The big thing I found out about Joe's Place is that they own the building. They pay taxes on their building. They cannot simply pack up and leave when their lease expires they are in it for the long haul.

This is a major reason, for more than a few, why the pending zoning bylaw needs to be reconsidered to establish a buffer zone around the youth centre. To help keep cannabis out of the hands of the youth, who are most vulnerable; something the federal legislation was designed to accomplish.

On the other side of the coin there are some strong arguments for wanting to have retailers in the downtown core. You need retailers to succeed if you have any hope of getting rid of illicit drug dealers, and hopefully, in the end, controlling access to youth.

This is an issue which could, quite truthfully, put the city front row and centre when it comes to the cannabis debate. Do we adopt other communities' guidelines or do a made in Moose Jaw solution? It's something we will all have to wait and see if it actually happens.