Categories: City Hall

First funds for cannabis engagement approved

St. Albert city council agreed Monday to commit $50,000 for a resident survey and other public engagement on cannabis, but some councillors question whether the city will get its money’s worth.

Council voted 4-3 in favour of the funding, with Coun. Wes Brodhead, Coun. Ray Watkins, Coun. Ken MacKay and Coun. Jacquie Hansen voting in favour.

The funds include $35,000 for public participation, including a survey, business community consultation and a World Cafe; $10,000 for education, including information sessions, utility bill inserts and advertising; and $5,000 as a contingency in case of extra costs.

Speaking in favour of the funding, Watkins and Hansen both said they see the value of consulting with St. Albert residents, while MacKay said the feedback the city receives will help to inform all the other cannabis-related processes that are being undertaken.

Brodhead said he believes it necessary for the city to be armed with as much information as possible as cannabis legalization approaches.

“When something like this changes – a significant change to our societal norms – I don’t know that we should take the easy road out in terms of introducing these sorts of changes to our community,” he said.

“I think we would do our community a disservice if we decided to not do our best effort.”

However, the three council members who voted against the funding, Coun. Sheena Hughes, Coun. Natalie Joly and Mayor Cathy Heron, pointed to a resident survey the City of Edmonton conducted on cannabis, noting the wide range of responses to questions.

“The message that the Edmonton council was getting from residents was very conflicting, and probably did not assist them as much as they would like in their decision-making,” Heron told the Gazette after the meeting.

Joly suggested the city could instead ask for feedback from bodies that are already in place, such as working groups, committees and the Chamber of Commerce, instead of spending money on a survey.

“We already have access to feedback from residents and experts in the community,” she said.

Sharon Chapman, director of strategic services, told council the city does not currently have the resources to dedicate to community engagement. That also extended to a suggestion from Heron to put together a SurveyMonkey survey instead.

Heron said she was frustrated with that answer, since the city has used SurveyMonkey in the past and based decisions on the results.

“$50,000 … just seemed unnecessary,” she said.

Cannabis costs anger mayor

During the meeting, Heron said she was “shaking with anger” that the city has to spend any money on public engagement.

She took aim at the provincial government, which to date has been mum on whether municipalities will receive revenue from cannabis legalization.

“This is a perfect example of why we need that excess tax money,” she said.

In February, Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) announced it is asking the provincial government for $30 million from the 2018-2019 budget to handle one-time costs of legalization. They have also asked for 70 per cent of the taxes the province generates from marijuana.

Speaking to the Gazette Tuesday morning, Heron said it’s still uncertain whether the province will agree, adding it’s frustrating for municipalities not to know one way or the other.

She said her gut feeling is that municipalities will not get the funds they have asked for.

There are four bylaws in particular the city is looking to update to reflect cannabis legalization: the land use bylaw, business licensing bylaw, smoking bylaw and tobacco licensing bylaw.

Heron said land use bylaw amendments would already come with a public hearing, noting the city does not traditionally spend extra money on public engagement when it changes a bylaw.

April Hudson :April is the editor of the St. Albert Gazette