No appeal of head shop bylaw needed
| Posted: Saturday, Jan 19, 2013 06:00 am
The city has accomplished as much as it could reasonably expect with its attempts to tie the hands of stores that sell paraphernalia that can be used to consume illegal drugs. Any attempt to appeal a recent court decision striking down some of those impediments would be folly.
Late last week a Court of Queen’s Bench justice ruled St. Albert had overstepped its authority in limiting what kinds of products stores in the city can sell. The bylaw amendments, enacted last spring, state local stores can only sell two of the following five types of merchandise – any product that displays a marijuana plant, a device intended to facilitate smoking activity, grinders, digital weigh scales, and detoxifying products for masking drug effects or enabling users to defeat drug tests.
The ruling left in place requirements that head shops, like The Chad Smoke Shop 420 that asked for the ruling, frost exterior glass and prohibit people under the age of 18 from entering.
If Mayor Nolan Crouse and the rest of council, as they have previously said, are most interested in protecting young people from the influences of head shops like The Chad, then there is no reason to appeal the decision. The glass will stay frosted and minors won’t be allowed in.
An appeal would only cost the city money and reinforce Justice T.D. Clackson’s statements that the amended bylaw is like “morality legislation,” with “the feel of a statement that, ‘this kind of thing isn’t going to happen in my city.’” Drugs might be illegal, but the paraphernalia head shops sell is not. There is nothing criminal about buying a scale, a pipe or a shirt with a marijuana leaf on it. It could be argued there is no non-criminal use for a bong or a product that helps you defeat a drug test, but that distinction is not one the city is authorized to make.
This crackdown on head shops is not Crouse’s first foray into trying to dictate what is morally acceptable in St. Albert. In November 2009, Crouse implored council to remove any references to adult entertainment or similar businesses from the land use bylaw. As the bylaw stood, any kind of adult store or strip club could only be set up in areas such as Riel or Campbell, even though it has been years since any kind of adult business operated in St. Albert.
The reason for this proposed amendment, that could have opened the city up to costly litigation? The mayor had heard there were a group of eight individuals in St. Albert who engaged in the swinging lifestyle and was concerned such a group, as happened in Edmonton, would want to set up a club facility.
Any attempt to punish local businesses for selling merchandise that could be used for illegal drug activity is doomed to fail given how authority for different levels of government is laid out under our constitution. No town or city in Canada has any authority to enact any kind of bylaw that addresses criminal activity.
And if council is going to restrict the sale of products that can be used to consume drugs, why stop at what you can find in a head shop? Drug users sometimes use pop cans to smoke their drug of choice, or sheets of aluminum foil. What about convenience stores that sell wrapping papers for unfiltered tobacco or dollar stores that sell straws or even sheets of paper that can be rolled up to snort something? Where does one draw the line?
Drugs are a cancer on any community, especially on its youth. Obscuring products at head shops from view is as far as a municipality can hope to go. Instead of wasting time and money on an appeal, the city should instead use its resources to lobby higher levels of government for better drug enforcement and prevention programs. The biggest problem with drugs is out on the street, not in a store.