Hey Saanich, get real with pot

The approach of Saanich towards the pending legalization of recreational cannabis appears sensible in the short-term, but potentially detrimental in the long-term.

The pending legalization of recreational cannabis on Oct. 17, 2018 promises to be an historic occasion. Canada will be the first major industrialized country to legalize the production, distribution and consumption of cannabis, just as other leading western economies are resisting, even reversing measures that would ease access.

But this global picture should not blind us to local realities.

Municipalities find themselves in an unenviable spot. They are the first to feel the effects of new policies, but often the last to find out about them, while lacking any control about the policies themselves. Held against this familiar absence of information and agency, Saanich’s wait-and-see approach towards the legalization of cannabis appears appropriate — at least on the surface.

It is certainly preferable to the administrative confusion that gripped the City of Victoria after the federal government announced that it would terminate the prohibition against pot. Victoria largely cast a blind eye towards the pot shops that soon popped up.

While this laissez-faire attitude might have earned Victoria popularity among sections of its citizenry, its deference towards illegal activity is unfitting and sets a dangerous precedent.

But if Victoria has been too lax, Saanich has shown too much restraint. Rhetorically, it has stressed that cannabis remains illegal by the letter of law, and refused to comment on controversies in Victoria with ramifications for Saanich.

More practically, it has kept its cards close to the vest, about where it might permit cannabis-related businesses, if and when it lifts the current “full” ban.

Worse, Saanich has displayed little, if any, appetite to discuss the subject. Opportunities for discussion have come and gone. Granted, the political times are sensitive, but genuine public engagement would look very much different from what has happened so far.

Council did hear from industry figures last week. Their comments suggest Saanich might be losing out on a golden opportunity, precisely because it has appeared cautious. Both staff and elected officials have long lamented the relative absence of commercial taxation. Well, opportunity knocks, but if current practices continue, Saanich runs the risk of seeing it go up in smoke.

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