There was not a room in Kootenay-Columbia big enough to accommodate the 3000+ people who took part in the telephonic Town Hall I hosted on marijuana legalization in Canada. Conveniently, most of the participants were sitting comfortably in their own living rooms taking part over the phone!
Since being elected in 2015, I have received hundreds of questions and comments about Justin Trudeau’s election commitment to legalize marijuana. Since the prime minister’s cynical retreat from his promise of democratic reform, it is difficult to know how many more promises the Liberal government might break. With that being said, we know that the issue of marijuana legalization is a complex one; it will undoubtedly have effects on our health, our local economies, and our law enforcement. The current state of limbo has created chaos for municipalities, police forces, businesses and recreational cannabis users. In November 2016, a government task force released A Framework for the Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada, but until we see the legislation a very problematic grey area remains.
On March 14th I hosted a telephonic town hall; the intent of which was to bring people together from all corners of Kootenay-Columbia to share their questions, concerns, knowledge and opinions about the legalization of cannabis for recreational use. I also wanted to prepare myself to represent the diverse views of the riding when the government brings forward legislation, which could happen as early as this spring. I assembled a panel consisting of the mayor of Nelson, a drug and alcohol addictions expert, and a Kimberley marijuana retailer. I also invited the RCMP to take part, but they respectfully declined. 3,378 people from across Kootenay-Columbia joined us on the call to listen, ask questions and share their opinions.
We heard concerns about the effects of second-hand smoke and impaired driving. There were questions about possible effects on life insurance and the age limit for legal use. There were a number of comments and ideas about how the tax revenue could and should be used. Questions and comments also touched on about how people who have gotten criminal records for simple possession would be pardoned and whether or not cannabis is a gateway drug. Another of the themes focused on who could and should grow and sell recreational cannabis. The panelists were able to respond to most of the concerns, and referencing the task force report provided insight on some of the other questions.
Since the town hall I have heard from many constituents who were grateful for the opportunity to hear from their neighbours and other communities across the riding; many have spoken on the value of having broad community conversations. I really appreciated the thoughtfulness of the participants. Even though this is an issue that can be divisive, all participants engaged in the conversation in a respectful and productive matter. Many folks who were not comfortable with or able to share their thoughts on the phone have since emailed them to me, so I can take them forward to Ottawa.
If you were not able to take part in the town hall, it was recorded and can be found on my website and youtube channel for your reference. As with all federal issues, please contact me with any feedback.
We will have to wait and see what the federal government’s next steps are when it comes to marijuana legalization. Many questions will remain unanswered until we see legislation come forward. The input I have received will inform my advocacy on behalf of the residents of Kootenay-Columbia when we see that legislation in Parliament. Remember that the Liberal justice minister continues to say that until the law is changed, it is illegal to be in possession of cannabis and you can end up with a criminal record for using it recreationally.
MP Wayne Stetski
NDP — Kootenay Columbia
PO Box 872 Cranbrook BC V1C 4J6