Councillor De Genova’s marijuana motion goes up in smoke…for now

NPA councillor wants cannabis at pot shops to come from Health Canada-approved producers

12th and Cambie

You may have heard that NPA Coun. Melissa De Genova introduced a motion at city council this week in an effort to take a bite out of organized crime’s involvement in marijuana dispensaries.

You probably didn’t hear that her motion went up in smoke…for now.

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You probably didn’t hear because you were not in the council chamber at 10 p.m. Wednesday, or watching the livestream from your computer when debate on the motion came to a halt after De Genova’s NPA colleague, Hector Bremner, voted against extending the meeting beyond 10 bells.

As a rule, council has to be unanimous in wanting to go beyond 10 p.m.

Why did Bremner do it?

The answer lies in the discussion leading up to 10 p.m. in which he and fellow councillors Elizabeth Ball and George Affleck attempted to refer the motion to another meeting. The main reason was that De Genova could not stick around and had to leave the chamber for a family emergency.

Council had already heard from president Jeremy Jacob and vice-president Ehren Richardson of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries. Vision Vancouver councillors wanted to get on with the debate and decision. Others wanted to refer it to city staff as they continue to work with the provincial government on sorting out new rules for pending legalization.

None of that happened.

De Genova’s motion is now in the hands of the city’s law department, although my understanding from the city clerk is the “unfinished business” of council will be “considered” at the June 5 council meeting.

“Considered” being the key word here.

The abrupt end to Wednesday’s meeting meant the business of the day, including the awarding of arts and culture grants to various groups, could not be ratified because council was still in committee of the whole mode.

Normally, at the end of a committee meeting, the mayor takes over from the chairperson of the committee—in this case, Coun. Andrea Reimer--to return the proceedings to council mode and ratify all decisions made.

Anyway, to De Genova’s motion…

She wants all marijuana-related businesses licensed by the city to obtain their pot only from producers approved by Health Canada. She wants the same businesses to provide annual audited financial statements.

She also wants staff to share any information it has on marijuana growers, suppliers and organized crime with the provincial and federal governments as they continue develop a legal framework for the pending legalization of cannabis in this country.

Some Vision councillors made it known Wednesday that they would vote against her motion, saying it was best to wait until new provincial and federal rules are in place before taking action, if any. Jacob also spoke in opposition of De Genova’s motion, saying such changes would create barriers to “limit patient access and jeopardize their wellness and security.”

“From our municipal leaders who are in opposition here, we would like to see a greater understanding of the practices and policies that would create a healthy, regulated cannabis market—a better understanding of the needs of patients and compassion for their vulnerable position and their right to access medicine,” he said.

I spoke to De Genova Thursday, who quickly went after Vision for not agreeing to defer her motion for debate and decision. Such a move, she said, would not be unique. She mentioned discussion related to the Cambie Corridor plan as an example.

“Speakers were heard, and then debate and decision was referred to a future meeting,” she said.

What did city manager Sadhu Johnston have to say about De Genova’s motion and its “potential redundancies,” as pointed out by members of the medical cannabis association? Affleck asked that question.

“We’ve been working on this issue, as you know, for many years,” Johnston replied. “This motion brings up a number of issues that would be of concern to the staff that have been working on this issue. It would be our recommendation to wait to see what the province does, in terms of their regulations before we were to make moves on this.”

Added Johnston: “If, as one of the speakers said, the province outlines an auditing process—they’re definitely going to be dealing with organized crime—why would we undertake all of that? It would be quite onerous and difficult to enforce from our perspective. So I think it would be helpful to wait to see what the province does in terms of how they go about regulating it to determine what further gaps we need to fill.”

It was an exceptionally long meeting Wednesday, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Yes, there were some breaks leading up to the 10 p.m. adjournment, but it was quite a haul for councillors. But, as I’ve learned over the years, it’s not unusual to keep the lights on in the chamber into the late evening.

Is it democracy by exhaustion?

You’d think so after hearing some of the comments from councillors, including Ball who described the marathon day as “long and grueling” and that it would be “a humane gesture” to refer De Genova’s motion until another day.

Reimer chaired the meeting and here’s what she had to say on Twitter:

“To be fair, 12 hours used to be the average meeting length in the 2005-2008 term,” she wrote, referring to the three years dominated by then-NPA mayor Sam Sullivan’s government. “In their case, it was a bitterly divided council. In our case, it’s a few people who ask a lot of questionable questions (aka it’s an election year).”

The election is Oct. 20. We’ve got six months to go. Yippee ki yay.

Note: Received some stats from the city this week that show 15 retail pot shops have been granted business licences and another four were given to “compassion clubs.” A total of 76 stores continue to operate that are subject to enforcement, which means they’ve been ticketed and/or facing court injunctions. The city has issued a total of 3,095 tickets to pot shops.

In February, the Vancouver Police Board heard from Sgt. David Instant of the department’s organized crime section on concerns related to marijuana legalization. Instant predicted police will see an increase in disputes between landlords and tenants over the growing and smoking of marijuana.

Robberies, break-ins and thefts at marijuana stores are also likely under legalization, he said. So is impaired driving, having young people access marijuana and the ongoing concern of organized crime groups infiltrating dispensaries, he added.

The feds are expected to make recreational pot legal this summer.

mhowell@vancourier.com

@Howellings

 

 

 

 

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