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Halton Hills Opts In To Ontario's Cannabis Legislation (With Recorded vote)

Halton Hills Opts In To Ontario's Cannabis Legislation

Last night, January 21'st 2019, in what may have been the most interesting and polarized Council meeting I have ever attended, Halton Hills Council decided to opt in to the province of Ontario’s Cannabis legislation with a vote of 8-3.

The Town was forced by the provincial government to make a decision in order to reap the benefits cannabis stores would provide. If the Town chose not to opt in or to opt in after January 22nd they would not receive any financial compensation once the provincial taxes surpassed $100 million.

The night started with a packed gallery and a presentation from the Town of Halton Hills Manager of Communications, Alex Fuller, and Susan Silver, Senior Advisor, from Strategic Planning and Continuous Improvement who spoke about the efficacy of the town’s engagement as well as their online survey via the, where you can find the full survey results.

Alex mentioned how there was actually very good engagement, stating usually people’s response rate is around 10%, which is common for any form of advertising. Out of all the people who see an ad, typically 10% will respond, however the town’s surveys engagement was over twice as high with 23% responding. “ We took a multi channeled approach to the survey, which included social media, advertising, a media release, website posting, signage, and inclusion in the town’s e-news letter” stated Alex. Also mentioned was that the Town of Halton Hills had more engagement than some of the much larger population centres.

Post Susan’s and Alex’s presentation, were 3 passionate delegations, the first being from Leslie Rutherford resident of Halton Hills “Representing the Catholic Women’s League of Canada- Holy Cross Parish”. Their presentations primary focus was stating the town did not have enough time for public engagement, referencing Christmas, the holidays and the short time span that Halton Hills public engagement took place, however their points were rebutted.

Following their presentation, Councillor Mike Albano asked if they had public engagement, would there be any chance of them changing their mind, to which their response was a hard “no”.

Delegating also was Sean Pierson, a resident of Halton Hills who used cannabis to assist him with addiction, his ADHD as well as arthritis. Sean made a strong case for cannabis being used as a harm reduction tool stating with a deep drawn in breath, “Im also an addict, I am currently celebrating my 10th year free from stimulant drugs, both legal and illegal” Sean attributed this to cannabis as well as consultation, counselling, and psychiatric cognations , referred to by professionals as “The Marijuana maintenance program” .

The last official delegation was done by Kristin Kowalski and Kate Downes on behalf of Green Light For Cannabis Halton Hills. They brought up some interesting points that had not yet been raised by the pro opt in side, they presented a power point remarking on “public engagement”, “Funding” and “Municipal Zoning”, a lot of their presentation was citing the ACGO and their official rules and regulations.

Perhaps, the most memorable moment of the night was a surprise delegation from Carolina Vandermeer. Carolina was not on the list to speak, however after the formal delegations she interrupted and asked if she would be permitted to speak. The acting Chair Bob Ingles stated he did not have her on the list and asked the towns Clerk for clarification. The Clerk did not have her on the list, but the Chair, asked if Council would permit her to speak, to which they voted on yes.

Carolina delivered an extremely fervorous speech mentioning religion, her distaste for cannabis, her appeal to alcohol, her lack of appeal to Canada, as well as zebras, the human reproduction cycle, and most importantly, why Halton Hills should opt out of the legislation. “The way God may impose his divine judgement on nations, as is evident by biblical accounts, may include chastisements such as natural disasters, plagues or epidemics or allowing enemies to succeed in their attacks. Thus I implore you, as the decision makers, with the responsibility and duty to protect the citizens, do not succumb to the pressure. Instead, do what is right for the people who have entrusted you with this decision, and more importantly, keep in accordance with God’s natural law by banning any type of these establishments from operating in your area.”

Lastly there was a debate between Council, Moya Johnson started by making a motion to opt out for reasoning also related to public engagement “I would like to put on the floor we opt out, so at least we have a position to meet, so I am going to make that motion” she continued “ It has to do with our public engagement charter, I want to commend staff for the process they have gone through, it was a thorough as I think they could have done in a 4 week time period, but it didn’t fulfill the requirements that um, that we have originally planned”.

Moya’s speech was quickly followed up with a strong rebuttal from Councillor Somerville, “Well now on the other side of the coin, is I’m not supporting opting out, in reality, if you start looking at the municipalities around us that did surveys here is some numbers 65.9% in Burlington said yes to retail, they had the Mayors open house, and that number went UP to 82% saying allow Cannabis retail, Centre of Wellington, 64.2 similar to us, Guelph did a phone poll to actually get the similar results Councillor Johnson was just speaking to, and it was 65%, so what would be achieved by having more consultation? We have heard from one of the delegates tonight that it still wouldn’t sway their vote, they would still say no, and most of the people who did contact me, who said we should not opt in were saying the same thing, it wouldn’t matter what the numbers were, they still wouldn’t want to see us doing it. You know the biggest thing I had people concerned over was not on us allowing retail stores, but what do we do if we have complaints about smoke? and thats been something I’ve had to talk to people about. What would the benefit be if we waited? there is none”, he continued “ I don’t think by waiting, we will have any new information than we do now, so I am hoping the members of Council put Halton Hills with the other 240 municipalities in ontario out of 444 that have opted in. Im hoping we can be on that list”. He finished by saying “ In a perfect world, there would be a perfect time to go out and consult, yes it did fall through christmas, but you know what, if we went and did the same thing, we have people saying we shouldn’t be doing it near march break, we shouldn’t be doing it through Easter, we shouldn’t be doing it near Victoria day” etc. “There is no perfect time to say we are going to start consulting, and when we are going to end consulting. We have to go by what our gut tells us, and my gut tells me that this is a product that is legal, it is a product, where if a store is going to be coming in it goes to the ACGO, we will have that opportunity to be able to comment on it. If people don’t like the fact is legal, we are not the order of Government they should be talking to.”

It was, in fact, the Federal Governments decision to make cannabis legal, as it has been since Oct 17th 2018. Since then the new Conservative Provincial Government changed the policy from the old (provincial) Liberal Government LCBO store model, to a new privatized model that would allow Municipal Government to decide whether or not they would allow stores within their Municipality.

After Councillor Somerville was Councillor Hurst, who was in favour of opting out, also due to the town’s public engagement and consultation. “ I think we are all discouraged about the timeline the government set” he continued “ I think if the consultation commitment had been addressed, I would be supporting opting in, because of the benefits I see for medicinal use, and the benefits I see for eliminating the underground market for the use of it as it presently is” however he ended with “ So I am going to support opting out with the hope that further consultation, I will wait to make a final decision but I think the thing is, people know we are committed to listening to everyone, and the thing is, its almost inconceivable to me that the Ontario government would say if you opt out, you would not receive any money. To me it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, to me its a measure of them trying to influence our decision, I don’t agree with it, so I will be supporting opting out at this time.”

After Councillor Hurst was Councillor Fogal who was for opting in, “Im weighing the difference between this commitment to an open house vs. listening to what the people said at the last meeting that we had, that put us in this position, people came out and made some compelling cases for why it is important to not delay our decision to opt in, that there were other elements coming into play, and one thing of course is we would be continuing to support the black market. Ok, support the black market, or this commitment to an open house. I don’t really think the commitment to the open house is the be all and end all of what we can do”, she continued “its a fantastic job of engaging people, and we learned quite a lot from them, so I was trying to get from our staff, do you think the answer is going to be any different if we gave another 4 weeks of public consultation? and I really think the answer is no, there won’t be any difference, and it’s so consistent with other municipalities, they have sampled people by random sample, and have had all types of ways of engaging the public, and the answer consistently comes up 60% or so in favour of opting in. I don’t think we are going to get another answer.” She ended with “There’s a lot of people who get prescriptions for opioids and they would prefer to be able to have marijuana from a reliable source. There are issues with how do we acquire this marijuana, why would we take away safe choices from people cause we didn’t have an open house? it doesn’t add UP to me. So for those reasons I think I am going to side with the public. The public has said what they think we ought to do, and they think we ought to opt in.”

The vote was tied at 3-3, then the cases for opt in became dominant with all remaining members voting for opt in.

Councillor Albano also had some strong words for Council, ”As councillors, we need to be forward thinking," Councillor Albano said. "The times are changing and the train is leaving the station. We must get on board and go on with the change."

Another passionate response came from Councillor Bryan Lewis who was prepared to opt in back on December 17 2018. Councillor Lewis stated “On December 17th as the mayor has already made reference to, I could have voted that day. I felt I had done my homework. We heard a number of delegations that presented themselves well, as they did tonight and a lot of information. I think what it should do to all of us, it should make us get off our buttcheeks and do some homework of our own”, he continued “ Its coming, its legal and I think we should have some say” he carried on “ I don’t know how we can be so wrong to opt out, when 240 have opted in” .

After all was said and done, Council finally decided with a recorded vote of 8-3 to opt in.

Those who opted out were Councillors…

Jon Hurst

Moya Johnson

and Ted Brown

While those who opted in were…

Mayor Rick Bonnette

and Councillors…

Clark Somerville

Mike Albano

Bryan Lewis

Wendy Farrow Reed

Bob Ingles

Ann Lawlor

and Jane Fogal

After the evening we spoke with some of the delegates to get their reaction to the evening.

Kristin Kowalski from the Green Light for Cannabis said “ It feels good to know that our hard work and efforts were truly heard. I want to thank the town for the participation in the much needed public engagement and thank council for listening. It is a HUGE victory that we honestly felt weary about at the beginning of the evening. Once the floor opened to council after the delegates, that feeling shifted to a confident one as more council members spoke and voiced their decision to opt in.... we did it!“

We also reached out to the Mayor for his final thoughts “Whether we like it or not, cannabis is legal. We are not here to judge that decision, we are here to decide if cannabis is to be sold in a retail store. I Support having cannabis sold that is quality controlled, safe and by an expert, rather than a drug dealer. This is safer for our residents.”

Even though Council voted to opt in, it is yet to be known whether any stores will be in Halton Hills by April 1st. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario completed their lottery on January 11th 2019, we have yet to determine whether any of the winners are from the Halton Hills area, we will have to wait and see. There is no doubt that the town will be closely monitoring applicants, but for now this is a big win for the public, and community activists.


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