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    Categories: Local News

Compassion, pragmatism must guide pot debate

It was hard not to chuckle watching St. Albert city council squirm over a medical marijuana greenhouse bylaw this week — even though there are no actual applications for such a facility before them.

Will it use too much water in this era of conservation? Will it be taxed like a farm instead of a business? And then Mayor Nolan Crouse went on a rant – his word – calling new laws allowing such a facility in the first place, just another example of the federal government downloading its responsibilities on municipalities without providing the cash to pay for it. His argument may have merit, in some instances, but not this one.

Let’s be honest, here. What the mayor and some councillors were really talking about was their distrust of anything to do with the dreaded weed and, by extension, all other illegal drugs. As was the case when council launched a crusade against bong shops a few years ago, the mayor and the city could very well end up looking silly if they send this business to a neighbouring municipality.

Yes, drug abuse is a serious issue that sucks the life out of everything it touches, much like alcoholism and gambling addictions. It destroys families and dreams. This is all sad, and true, yet we somehow tolerate bars, liquor warehouses and casinos in our midst.

But that is not the point. Illegal drugs are already a fact on St. Albert’s leafy streets, just as they are in Edmonton, Vancouver, and everywhere else. This proposal is not about that. It is about making medicine and pain control for people suffering from horrible illnesses.

Many countries around the world recognize marijuana as a doctor-prescribed treatment that may help some patients deal with cancer treatments, AIDS and conditions such as multiple sclerosis. There are admittedly conflicting studies on how effective pot always is, but Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Israel, and Italy, among others, believe, like those wild-eyed hippies in the Harper government, that it should be made available to ease suffering. Interestingly, a new study has found that overdose deaths caused by opiates — of which 60 per cent are legitimately prescribed — are dramatically lower in the 23 American states where medical marijuana is available, and doctors note, it is virtually impossible to overdose on pot.

The point for council is that whether it agrees with the recreational use of pot or not, any proposed medical marijuana operation will be governed by strict federal regulations. It won’t be permitted to sell the drug directly through any type of storefront operation. It must have tight security. The city administration wisely drafted a bylaw, which eventually passed second reading with a 6–1 vote, that would give it descretionary control over any medical marijuana facility. That means the city would require that neighbours be notified, mandatory setbacks be met and it would not be permitted to be built near schools or daycares. Let’s hope it passes its third reading, after what Crouse calls, “sober second thought.”

Rather than hold a tortured debate on why a greenhouse should be kept out of St. Albert’s borders, council should be willing to embrace any legitimate business willing to spend the money to come here. Considering the city’s lopsided reliance on residential, as opposed to business taxes, a welcoming hand should be extended to all responsible companies that look here to locate.

St. Albert Gazette: The St. Albert Gazette has been the source for news and community information in St. Albert and area since 1961. Today the twice-weekly full-colour tabloid delivers award-winning journalism in print, online and on mobile.