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Roll up your sticky icky. We need to talk about council's weed debate

This week's Market Squared posits that the real controversy of council's cannabis vote has nothing to do with the drug
weed marijuana grampa stock

There were eight delegates and 50 correspondences to city council on the proposed trail underpass beneath the Speedvale Bridge. As to whether or not Guelph should allow storefront retail cannabis, it was three delegates and two written submissions.

And that should tell you everything you need to know about Guelph.

At Monday’s council meeting, by a vote of 10 to 3, Guelph opted in to allowing privately-owned, bricks and mortar pot shops to open in the city. So Snooch to the Nooch, Royal City!

But seriously, I think I agree with Councillor Dan Gibson when he observed that it was only somewhere around the middle of the debate that council realized the implications of what they were debating.

Part of that may be the fault of all us. The October 17 legalization of cannabis came and went like it was any other day. The sky did not fall, nor did Canadian society collapse into the original apocalyptic vision of pot use run rampant, Reefer Madness.

That’s not to say we understand the total health and social effect of legal cannabis. Not yet, anyway.

Dr. Nicola Mercer, the medical officer of health at Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, painted a picture of cautious concern when it comes to the world with legalized pot. Although it wasn’t her intent, looking back at the meeting, it seems as though Dr. Mercer’s presentation almost scared council straight.

Some people on my Twitter feed took exception to Dr. Mercer focusing on the negatives of cannabis. Of course, there are negatives, but more than say alcohol? A study this summer in the medical journal The Lancet found that alcohol use was the leading health risk factor across the globe in 2016, with 3.8 per cent of all female deaths and 12.2 per cent of all male deaths attributable to alcohol use for people between 15 and 49.

But alcohol has long been a socially accepted vice, where as cannabis has just been a vice. Reefer Madness, you know.

Still, as a former weekend night auditor at an area hotel, I can count on one hand the number of issues I had with stoners versus the dozens of problematic interactions I had with drunks.

Still, it’s a societal change, and I understand why some on council might have had their issues wrapping their heads around it. Councillor Dominique O’Rourke offered insight by posting her pro/con list on social media, but the die was cast well before Monday’s meeting: it just doesn’t make sense to have legal weed and no where you can buy it, in-person, in the city.

Interestingly though, Hamilton opted out, at least until January 14. Hamilton was mentioned by Dr. Mercer as a slam-dunk case to opt-in when they already have so many dispensaries in that town. Cities have until January 22 to tell the province whether they’re opting in or opting out.

I think O’Rourke’s ward-mate, Councillor Mark MacKinnon, put it best when he said that the vote to opt in was not to be made based on one’s personal morality. Cannabis is now a legal product, should we not treat it like we would any other legal product, even the ones that might be dangerous to your health?

And though I agree with MacKinnon on that account, the controversy here may have nothing to do with the product itself. Mississauga has opted out, and so has Milton. In our own backyard, Centre Wellington and Erin have also opted out, as have numerous other small towns and counties in northern Ontario.

The reason, more often than not, is the apparent lack of municipal control over where, when and how a cannabis retailer can open.

Thank Doug Ford who overturned the security of government control by cancelling the Ontario Cannabis Stores. A move straight from the textbook taught at the George Costanza School of Governance, “if everything your political opponents does is wrong, then the opposite *must* be correct.”

Or maybe the fault lies with the Federal government. At one point in the council meeting, Mayor Cam Guthrie all but yelled, “It’s Justin! It’s Justin’s fault! Blame Justin!” Like the one kid in the group that flips when they’re all threatened with detention.

Back to seriousness though, what we might have here is another example of the pressures of top down government: the Feds legalized pot, left it to the provinces to decide how it was going to be administered, and because of a change in government here in Ontario, one plan ready to be enacted was cancelled, and another plan was put together on the fly.

Then, at the end of the line, municipalities are forced to take it or leave it, and while you may differ in opinion from the three councillors that decided to vote against opting in, none of us can say for certain where this road goes.

Maybe things will work out. Maybe the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario will respect and abide by Guelph’s concerns while handing out licenses.

On the other hand, maybe you’ll beat your dealer to death, and your girlfriend will jump out a window rather than testify against you before you end up in an insane asylum for life.

That’s Reefer Madness. At least we’ve been forewarned.