Pubdate: Wed, 14 Mar 2018
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Dan Fumano
Page: A5


News release that called for study to make personal use legal called
'a surprise'

Things started off on a pretty collegial tone Tuesday morning in
Vancouver city council.

Much of the morning session was concerned with development plans for
an 8.4-hectare site in south Vancouver. Councillors echoed their
support for the project, and one commented on proceedings going "so
smoothly." The mayor agreed, saying it was nice to conduct the meeting
"without the kind of friction that can sometimes occur."

But things soon took a slightly more contentious turn, when NPA
councillors questioned the city's approach on drug-related matters,
raising the possibility the party could make the subject an election
issue this year.

NPA Coun. George Affleck asked council about Friday's City of
Vancouver news release, which, he said, came as "a surprise" to him.

Friday's statement, an update on the city's tragic, ongoing overdose
crisis, included a single line - seemingly buried near the bottom of
the 450-word statement - recommending convening a "task force to
implement immediate decriminalization of personal possession of
illicit drugs."

While Affleck didn't object to the concept of drug decriminalization
itself, he had questions about Friday's statement.

"I think, certainly, council is open to the idea of decriminalization.
But I would say I was very surprised to see a press release that was
sent out saying we were asking, as a city, to implement something that
has not been discussed in public in this chamber," he said. "I would
like to understand and hear from perhaps the city manager, or Mr.
Mayor, yourself, how this could occur, and if this was

City manager Sadhu Johnston replied, saying: "Our apologies, if the
press release came by surprise."

 From city staff 's perspective, the recommendations in the release
were part of the "evolution" of the city's long-standing harm
reduction-based drug policy, Johnston said, adding a council report
next month would allow "a fulsome conversation" with council on the

Fellow NPA Coun. Melissa De Genova then raised her own concerns about
the city's decriminalization recommendation. Less than 10 minutes
earlier, De Genova had attempted to introduce a motion seeking to
reopen the 800 block of Robson Street to bus traffic, citing the
"illegal marijuana vending " in the area since council decided in 2016
to close it to auto traffic and create a permanent plaza.

De Genova's motion, seconded by fellow NPA Coun. Elizabeth Ball,
included one line about bus traffic, citing a 2016 staff report that
said the rerouting of buses could provide "a less direct connection"
between the West End and Granville Street. But most of the text of the
motion concerned marijuana sales, which had flourished in the area
before police enforcement in January, and "illegal activities that
make some people feel uncomfortable and unwelcome."

But the motion went nowhere. Mayor Gregor Robertson, chairing the
meeting, said concerns had been raised about the motion, adding: "I'm
going to ask our city clerk to weigh in on this."

City clerk Janice MacKenzie then explained the relevant rules, in what
happened to be her final council meeting before retiring after 18
years of service as deputy city clerk and city clerk. De Genova's
motion appeared to be "in conflict" with the motion passed two years
earlier by council, MacKenzie said.

De Genova, who didn't vote with the majority in April 2016, was not
able to rescind a motion passed within the current council term,
MacKenzie said, adding: "as such, my advice to you, Mr. Chair, is that
the motion is out of order."

Robertson thanked the clerk and ruled the motion out of order, saying:
"it's pretty black and white."

De Genova rose and tried to call for "A point of clarification, Mr.

But Robertson replied: "There is no such thing as a point of
clarification. You can take it up with the clerk if you have questions."

After council, De Genova told Postmedia she believes these two
separate issues are both examples of the city's mishandling of drug
issues under the Visionmajority council.

"With Vision Vancouver," she said, "the whole way they've handled
cannabis in our city, in regulating (dispensaries) through amendments
to the zoning bylaws, has been very problematic and has encouraged
people to pop up in places like this. We've seen lemonade-stand-type
cannabis pop-ups."

De Genova also questioned whether the Vancouver police endorsed the
city's statement Friday, and whether decriminalization of all drug
possession could hamper VPD's drugenforcement efforts and "allow more
drug trafficking to come into Vancouver."

The VPD did not reply Tuesday to a request for comment.

Charles Gauthier, president of the Downtown Vancouver Business
Improvement Association, said he hasn't heard from Robson Square-area
businesses complaining of marijuana vendors since the VPD shut down
the pot market in January.

"It's been a lot better since police went in there."

On Tuesday afternoon, there were no signs of marijuana sales or any
other unlicensed vendors in the plaza.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt