When the federal government tabled Bill 36 in September 2018, it threw many municipal politicians for a loop when they realized that they had, quite suddenly, been saddled with a level of authority and responsibility that most didn’t want.
Nevertheless, they began the sometimes painful, sometimes comical, process of trying to figure out what powers they had and what rules would apply.
Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said final approval of where, when and how pot stores could operate was up to municipal governments – and that included the ability to block cannabis stores altogether. A hodgepodge of rules resulted that had some municipalities, including Sooke, accepting of the businesses (with some restrictions) while others began to channel the fervour of prohibition era temperance unions, trying their best to ban the killer weed from their communities.
As we said, comical.
Now, just as the dust has begun to settle on the issue of cannabis sales, a new issue has come to Sooke, namely where the stuff can be grown.
The cannabis report received by council at its last meeting raised more questions than it answered as it noted the eight different license classes for growers and tried vainly to offer advice on whether the activity should be considered an agricultural, industrial, or commercial enterprise.
Perhaps, the report implied, it could be a little of all of the above.
In true bureaucratic form, the report reviewed economic considerations spoke to the approach of other municipalities, and even articulated some of the thorny decisions that needed to be made.
It’s what happened next that should be of concern to Sooke residents.
Instead of actually discussing the matter and providing staff with direction, council punted. They directed staff to prepare the necessary bylaws and policies without providing the poor souls with even a modicum of guidance on the issues.
Oh sure, there will be a chance for council to debate those bylaws. There will be public hearings. Council might even throw out whatever is recommended. But the fact is that, by abrogating their responsibility, they will have allowed non-elected bureaucrats to frame the debate.
That framing is unlikely to be innovative since it’s common for bureaucracies, by their very nature, to defend the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.
This was an opportunity for Sooke’s council to lead. Sadly, it was an opportunity lost.