Community checks out legalized cannabis plan

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Citizens want town to focus on citizen safety

INNISFAIL – Dozens of curious and concerned citizens had their first opportunity last week at an open house to engage town council and staff face to face on local plans to handle the pending federal legalization of cannabis.

And safety, especially for the youth of the community, was at the top of citizens’ list of priorities.

“I just don’t want my kids exposed to it,” said local resident and mother Reshann Butts. “I don’t want it being sold close to the schools or someone can get their big 18-year-old brother to go and buy it for the party down the street for 16-year-olds.”

Butts was one of dozens of Innisfailians who attended the town’s cannabis legalization open house at town hall on May 8 to review all available information, including the latest federal and provincial guidelines. The town, relying on its Public Participation Policy, is seeking extensive citizen input, which includes a forum with stakeholder groups and an online and paper survey process that ends today (May 15).  As of May 8, the town had received a “fantastic” response of about 350 completed citizen surveys, said Stuart Fullarton, the town’s communications coordinator.

The final survey numbers will help staff develop a go-forward plan leading to the creation of draft bylaw amendments designed to regulate the consumption and sales of cannabis in the community. Administration will then present a proposed plan to council for first reading on June 25. The federal government has said in the past it wanted legalized cannabis in place by July but with the Senate still studying the proposed legislation no firm date has yet been established.

In the meantime, most local citizens, whether for or against legalized cannabis, are resigned to the fact it will soon be legal, but they also insist the town be prepared with a focus on safety.

“It’s been here for many, many years but unfortunately it’s got to the point where the criminal side got into it and young kids got involved, and maybe this way (legalization) it will stave that off a little,” said Innisfailian Terry Leicht. “I hope that is going to happen and we will be able to better govern it and ensure it doesn’t get in the hands of the kids.”

The provincial government has announced regulations providing for a 100-metre buffer between cannabis retailers and schools and provincial health-care facilities. Municipalities have the option to adjust these buffer zones or create new ones.

Innisfailian Lorena Siemens praised the town for its efforts to lay out all the information for the community  but added the national plan is being rushed too quickly.

“There is a lot of adverse information in so far as medical issues, and we haven’t divulged all of that. We haven’t digested it to see where that will go, so yes it is being pushed way too quickly,” said Siemens.

Mayor Jim Romane, who wants the town to ultimately approve a go-slow approach, said there are still important issues at both the provincial and federal government levels that have to be clarified.

“The police are not even sure yet,” said Romane. “We can always expand on it later but for the time being let’s ease into it.”

In the meantime, the town is still waiting for more information from both levels of government, including the date of full legalization.

“There is still some movement happening. Before we go too far we want to make sure the senior levels of government are ready to go with this,” said Todd Becker, the town’s chief administrative officer. “We are still getting pressure locally to be ready, and sooner the better, because there is interest in accessing the retail market.”

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Johnnie Bachusky

Johnnie Bachusky joined the Innisfail Province as editor in 2013. He covers Innisfail and Red Deer County news, police, crime and municipal politics. He is also a photographer and columnist.