Locals hash out Tofino’s proposed cannabis ban

“I hope to raise my family in a place that doesn’t stigmatize perfectly good people.”

Tofitians who had been looking forward to Canada’s legalization of marijuana this summer were gobsmacked to hear that their municipal council is proposing its own local prohibition.

Tofino’s district office has crafted a bylaw amendment that would temporarily ban the sale, production and distribution of cannabis within its borders to give itself time to figure out what the eventual retail sale of marijuana would look like.

Council’s chambers ran out of seats while the hallway outside was still full of locals when a public hearing to discuss the ban began at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“No decision is going to be made today at this hearing,” explained Tofino mayor Josie Osborne at the outset. “In fact, no debate or discussion amongst council will take place…It is our job today to listen to you.”

Peter Clarkson was the first local to speak, stating “the prohibition era is over” and questioning why Tofino seemed so unprepared for the long expected incoming legalization.

“I respect you guys. I appreciate all the hard work you do and your opinions, but I don’t understand where you’re coming from,” Clarkson said.

Craig Heber wondered how council could consider banning a legal substance.

“I don’t really see how, constitutionally, your ban would even stand up in a court challenge, leaving the whole town and council in trouble,” he said. “Since [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau got elected, you knew this was coming. It’s no surprise. I don’t think this council should hold it up and I don’t know if it has a legal right to.”

Carol Nikols said she was speaking on behalf of her 80 year-old “somewhat shy other half,” who has been a medical marijuana patient for roughly three years and should not need to travel out of town for his medicine.

“For him to be denied something that is legal, for it not to be locally available, is not right in my estimation at all,” she said. “I don’t know what the rationale behind trying to ban a legal substance is…In our case, it’s going to impose a hardship that’s not necessary.”

Sarah Stoski said her biggest concern with the ban was the absence of a stated end-date.

“Dispensaries would be very healthy businesses in this town,” she added. “I understand not having them right by the school, but there’s black market dealers right by the school and by having this bylaw, those black market dealers can still offer that product all over town…This, actually, is good for them.”

Michael Holekamp agreed and said any restriction would need a clear exit strategy.

“A lot of us are just concerned that the prohibitive side of the bylaw is very explicit and the temporary side of it is very ambiguous,” he said.

David Ward offered to put his 20 years experience as both a medical user and cultivator of marijuana to work with the district on a strategy to move forward, adding that strategy should include shying away from major corporate producers.

“I see an opportunity here for us as a community to embrace cannabis businesses in a positive light,” he said. “For the same reason we don’t accept McDonalds and Walmart in our community, we need to prioritize local cannabis producers and suppliers.”

He suggested council’s proposed ban could continue casting a negative, and unfair, light on local marijuana users.

“I hope to raise my family in a place that doesn’t stigmatize perfectly good people for doing nothing morally wrong,” he said.

Dan Law was the only speaker in support of the ban and said a framework is needed to prevent major corporations from moving in and taking over the local marijuana industry.

“Right now, I don’t see any reason why Tofino’s local businesses and local people will be protected from national and international corporations coming in here, setting up businesses, doing what they want, where they want,” he said. “The establishing of marijuana dispensaries, without any ability for council to regulate and control, will make vacation rentals look pale in comparison.”

Osborne told the Westerly News on Thursday that she was not surprised to see such a large attendance at the hearing and that she and her council were happy to hear from their constituents.

“Clearly people care about this issue, and council wants to hear all perspectives—which is a critical part of good decision making,” she said.

She said council will take what they heard into consideration when they discuss whether to make the proposed ban official during their Feb. 27 regular meeting.

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