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At County Council: cannabis and conduct rules

Sturgeon County got a step closer to legalizing cannabis production this week, and set a new code of conduct for its councillors.

Cannabis (sort of) legalized

Cannabis companies can now theoretically set up shop in Sturgeon County – just as soon as county council decides where it should be legal for them to do so.

County council approved changes to its land-use bylaw Tuesday related to cannabis. The changes formally define cannabis and cannabis retail sales, production, and distribution, and clarify that cannabis-related land uses are not legal anywhere in Sturgeon County.

The old land-use bylaw did not cover cannabis (which meant cannabis-related businesses weren’t allowed) but there were a few land-uses that could have been interpreted as allowing for it, Colin Krywiak, the county’s manager of current planning and development, said in an interview.

“The county is not closed to cannabis development,” Krywiak told council. Instead, administration plans to ask residents this summer where specifically they want to see cannabis businesses in the county. That consultation would lead to further land-use amendments after recreational cannabis becomes legal in October.

The county will likely have to change many other laws and policies in preparation for the legalization of recreational cannabis this October, noted county integrated growth manager Collin Steffes, particularly when it came to public consumption of cannabis.

Krywiak said in an interview that the county knew of a few companies that were interested in starting cannabis-related businesses in Sturgeon. These groups could either wait until the land-use bylaw was revised this fall to specify where they could operate, or ask council to authorize their operation through a direct control permit.

Mayor Alanna Hnatiw said the county hadn’t heard much from residents about cannabis (an online survey on it drew just 71 responses), and suspected that many companies were waiting to see how the county would act on the legal side before deciding where to invest. She suspected that the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board would seek to have common standards for cannabis throughout the region.

“We’re looking to diversify and modernize our agriculture industry, and I think this form of horticulture is something we have to consider as being a viable business opportunity no different than craft breweries or distilleries,” Hnatiw said.

Code of conduct

County councillors will have to watch their language on social media now that they’ve approved a new council code of conduct bylaw.

Council passed all three readings of the council code of conduct bylaw Tuesday. The bylaw, a requirement under recent changes to the Municipal Government Act, replaces council’s old code of conduct policy.

The law states that the public is entitled to expect “the highest standard of conduct” from elected officials, and requires councillors and council appointees to treat each other, staffers, and the public with dignity and respect without abuse, discrimination, or bullying.

Some of the biggest changes in this law are the rules for social media, which were not covered under the old policy. Under the new law (which also applies to unelected people appointed to council committees), council members and appointees “should exercise sound judgement and be prudent” with what they post online and “exercise caution” when making comments on contentious issues. They are also forbidden from disguising their identity on social media or publishing anything that is untrue, offensive, or defamatory.

Coun. Karen Shaw is currently being sued for defamation by county resident Len Kozak over an allegedly defamatory retweet from her Twitter account during the 2017 electoral campaign.

The new law establishes a formal and an informal complaint system for council conduct, neither of which existed under the old policy. Informal complaints involve speaking with a council member or appointee about an alleged bylaw violation, possibly with the help of the mayor or deputy mayor. Formal complaints will be made in writing and investigated by the county’s lawyers.

The law also has enforcement measures, which were not part of the old policy. Persons who break the bylaw may receive letters of reprimand, pay cuts, and suspensions from committees and duties, but cannot be removed from office.

The words of people in public office have weight, and it’s incumbent on them to verify the truth of what they post, Hnatiw said in an interview.

“Although people in public office often have strong opinions, we have to be respectful in how we choose to share them.”

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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