Pubdate: Thu, 02 Nov 2017
Source: Merritt Herald (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Merritt Herald
Author: Cole Wagner
Pages: 6-7


As the province wraps up its short consultation period with local
governments and the public on the impending legalization of marijuana,
city councils - including Merritt - are being put in the hot seat.

The federal government will introduce legislation which will see
marijuana legalized for recreational use across the country on July 1,
2018. While the feds will retain control over, provinces will be
tasked with deciding how to deal with crafting their own rules
regarding the enforcement and sale of cannabis products.

But the official delineation of responsibilities leaves out an
important player in deciding whether legalization truly signals a new
direction in drug policy in this country.

Municipal governments may not have the power to amend the criminal
code, but through the mighty power of zoning, city councillors wield
an extremely potent tool that could be used to blunt the effects -
both positive and negative - of legalization.

Here in Merritt, the city's chief administrative officer has suggested
as much, stating to the Herald that if council desires to ban pot
sales in town, they could very well draft the bylaw.

And councillors wouldn't have to look far for inspiration, after
Richmond's city council unanimously voted in favour of sending a
blistering letter to the federal and provincial governments,
announcing the Richmond's opposition to legalization.

"It's a medically known fact that marijuana is a drug that is harmful
to any individual that consumes it, whether it be an adult, or a
youth. So let's not beat around the bush," said Coun. Bill McNulty
during the Oct. 23 Richmond city council meeting, presumably reading
from the script of Reefer Madness.

Enough evidence exists to suggest that marijuana has genuine medical
applications. But more importantly, McNulty's comments paint all drugs
as equally harmful. In B.C., given the rate of fatal overdoses this
year due to the influx of hyper-potent opioids, we know that this is
an incorrect characterization at best - and a potentially fatally
misleading assumption at worst.

A recent study on the effects of cannabis legalization on opioid
deaths authored by Dr. Melvin D. Livingston out of the University of
North Texas suggests that legalizing marijuana for recreational use
may be one of the more effective tools in our arsenal as far as
cutting down on the number of fatal overdoses.

In comparing three states with different legal standards for marijuana
use, the researchers found that the rising tide of opioid-related
deaths was reduced by 6.5 per cent following the legalization of
recreational weed.

As of the end of August, 17 people in Richmond have died this year due
to fentanyl.

The BC Coroners Service does not provide exact numbers for Merritt,
but 35 deaths have been recorded in the same time period in the
Thompson-Cariboo-Shuswap region.

With zoning bylaws, cities wield an important tool in deciding how the
impending federal legalization of marijuana will look in their
respective communities.

But local politicians should also be cognizant of the larger backdrop
they are operating within: a public health emergency which has
resulted in the deaths of hundreds of British Columbians.
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