New North Mayors gathering sparks discussion about cannabis

By Bryan Eneas
November 23, 2017 - 5:35pm

Mayors from the northern regions of Saskatchewan are gathered in Prince Albert for their fall meeting, and one panel about cannabis sparked discussions.

The topic was broached during a discussion panel about next year's planned legalization of recreational pot.

The panel about cannabis was hosted by Moliehi Kahketla, a medical officer within the Population Health Unit and Steve Dribnenki, the senior policy advisor for the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA).

Kahketla provided an overview of the public health aspect within the legalization of cannabis while Dribnenki provided a “lay of the land” when it comes to the legal side of recreational marijuana.

Mayors and community leaders had the opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns about the upcoming legislation. For Bobby Woods, the mayor of the Northern Village of Buffalo Narrows, the discussion left more questions than answers.

“It’s still up in the air; we don’t know what’s going to happen yet,” Woods said. “Government aren’t ready for it, they say they’re ready for it, but are we ready for it at the community level? I really don’t think so, and I know we’ll never be ready for it.”

Woods said introducing legalized drugs can only make situations worse for municipalities. He said he’s seen the effects of alcohol and tobacco, which have left many social issues in northern communities and fears for the same consequences from recreational pot.

One of his biggest concerns is for youth in municipalities because he sees marijuana as a gateway drug to harder substances like fentanyl or crystal meth.

“If adults make that choice, they’re supposed to be able to make the choices for themselves, to use marijuana, fine,” Woods said. “It’s our children that I’m worried about, they’re the future here. I just wish and hope and pray that they don’t get into anything more than that, if they even get into this.”

He called it contradictory when governments say a drug is OK but also provide money and funding to combat addictions which may be caused from the substance in question. He said he can’t see how money generated from the sale of recreational cannabis would ever come back to communities to properly address issues like addictions.

For Jordan McPhail, a councillor from the Northern Town of La Ronge, the presentations by Kahketla and Dribnenki cleared up some questions, but also posed new issues to tackle.

“It did answer a lot of questions along the lines of what timelines we will see,” McPhail said. “Where it made it more muddy is as a municipality, what are the challenges we’re going to be facing? From what I’ve understood from the meetings today is it’s going to be a trickledown policy making decision… What will the municipalities do with cannabis legalization?”

McPhail said he’s curious about whether or not municipalities can make changes to federal regulations which the province doesn’t address in its own legislations. He said he would like to know if municipalities can make changes to specifics like the proposed age of 18 to purchase recreational marijuana if the province doesn’t deviate from the federal recommendation.

“That way we can still retain power as a municipality, and if we can’t, what steps can we take to control distribution and usage within our communities?” McPhail asked.

McPhail said the La Ronge town council hasn’t yet had much face-to-face consultation from the province of Saskatchewan regarding legalization.

He said the town has been linked to the survey asking residents for their input on how the government should move forward. The link has been made available on the town and provincial governments’ websites, and residents of La Ronge are encouraged to participate.

McPhail said he’d like to see an information session similar to the New North Fall Mayor and Council Gathering between municipal and provincial representatives to work out various kinks in the process. He suggested hosting a similar gathering in La Ronge to inform the public of the policies around upcoming legalization.

“Creating a law that the public doesn’t understand is the best way to go,” McPhail said. “It’s not important for the municipal leaders to gain this education; it’s also important to for the municipality, the residents, the rate payers… to see the same information we’re seeing, that way we’re making decisions on the same foundational level.”


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