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Democracy wins out in marijuana debate

Grand Forks City Hall

With a near full gallery at the meeting of Grand Forks city council, people gathered to bring forward different concerns. One of the most pressing topics of the week was medical marijuana. Two motions by Councillor Gene Robert at the Dec.7 meeting forced council to a vote on the issue when it was introduced by an item of correspondence.

As soon as the item came up on the agenda, Robert put two motions on the floor. The first motion asked that the staff write a letter to both MP Alex Atamanenko and Interior Health senior medical health officer Dr. Andrew Larder to respond to letters sent by a local resident, Sylvia Treptow.

At a city council meeting of Nov. 16, Treptow presented two letters from the officials advising that they are not aware of, or actively involved in, a medical marijuana task force in Grand Forks. Treptow wrote to both Atamanenko and Larder in her attempts to identify members of the task force initiated by Councillor Joy Davies earlier in the year whose members have chosen to remain anonymous.

The letters from council will state that the medical marijuana group that is meeting to discuss developing options for local medical users is not sanctioned by council, nor does it receive staff or financial support. The motion was supported by the council.

Robert initiated a second motion to have council agree to refrain from discussing the topic of medical marijuana for the remainder of their term, and that no city staff or financial resources be used on any aspect of the issue. This motion was in support of a petition signed by 152 people, including signatures of three councillors, also presented by Treptow at the last council meeting, asking city council to refrain from discussing the topic for the duration of their term in office.

“This task force is not financially supported by council, it’s not staffed by council, and unfortunately, we do have to talk about it. I regard those 152 names as people who are really outraged by the debate around this table and it’s time to put it away,” said Robert.

Mayor Brian Taylor opened the discussion on the motion, “This is likely unconstitutional, and probably illegal, so I’m not so sure our direction at this point should be followed through on, but I leave that open to discussion.”

Councillor Christine Thompson reviewed the petition between meetings to establish the number of signatures on the petition that were property owners, or persons entitled to vote within the municipality in order to establish the validity of the petition. Thompson reported to the council that there were only 74 actual voting residents on the list and that many of the names were not even from the Boundary region.

“Signatories include persons identifying themselves as from Vernon, Parksville, Anglemont, and Fort MacMurray, Alberta. I cannot find any credibility in a petition that would be presented to any council that has on its first page of signatures the annotation ‘eat ****’,” said Thompson.

Thompson also expressed her frustration with discussing the issue repeatedly, not because of council agenda items, but because of repeated comments and questions from the gallery at meetings. “The only time that we are discussing this issue of late is when Mrs. Treptow either comes to the podium, or presents us petitions or documentation that we have to take our valuable time and resources to discuss and debate when they could be used to discuss and debate other issues. So if Mrs. Treptow would be kind enough to no longer present us with her point of view, which I think we all have adequate information on, then we don’t have to waste anybody’s time discussing this issue.”

Councillor Chris Moslin was adamant that council should not ban discussion of any topic at meetings. “I speak against this motion because we have no control who stands there (pointed at the delegation table). We are the government that is closest to the people, if the people bring it forward to us, we will listen to them. And I’m not going to exclude anybody from coming here, not by my vote,” he said.

Councillor Michael Wirischagin supported Moslin adding that he cannot prevent the democratic rights of residents and councillors from being respected.

“For how much I don’t believe this topic belongs at this level of government, I cannot support this motion for the reasons that Councillor Moslin pointed out. Also, Councillor Davies has every right to bring it up whether I agree or disagree,” said Wirischagin.

Councillor Wyers maintained that the issue of medical marijuana is too large a task for council to take on at this difficult economic time.

“My position is not against medical marijuana. My position is that we have so many other things in our community that we have to deal with right now at a local level that if we are busy with medical marijuana legislation, or venturing out there against the federal government or Health Canada, then we need our taxpayers to give us that go ahead,” said Wyers.

Robert reiterated that he doesn’t believe the city has the legislative authority to deal with the issue and that any pursuit of the issue should be done outside of council’s purview. Taylor reminded council that they often deal with issues that are beyond their jurisdiction.

Councillor Joy Davies, who initiated the discussion of medical marijuana months ago with council, clarified that she has not held discussions at council since council voted against the task force in September.

“I have not initiated anything about medical marijuana since September of 2009. I don’t know where you are thinking I am taking up all of council’s time since it seems that everybody else is doing it. The issue belongs at our table because it is an access problem, people can’t get their licences. We face our people face to face at this level of government. That’s why our level of government brings issues up through the UBCM – our provincial lobby organization. Everything belongs at our table,” said Davies.

The resolution was defeated after the lengthy discussion.