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Nelson Council Debates Legalization of Pot

Mayor John Dooley made an impassioned and sometimes inflammatory refusal to support the legalization of marijuana at Monday’s council meeting, in a wide-ranging debate that touched on law, morality, science, and politics. This article contains a full transcript of the discussion.

Nelson City Council, normally quite an amiable group, descended into a tense stalemate Monday during a long discussion about the legalization and regulation of marijuana. The discussion included some acrimonious exchanges between Mayor John Dooley and Councillor Donna Macdonald.  

Council was debating a motion that, if passed, would have had the mayor sign a letter in support of legalization. Mayor Dooley said he would refuse to sign such a letter even if a majority of council were to vote for it. 

“I will go to the wall on this,” he said. “In three years, I will go to the wall.” Asked by Councillor Deb Kozak if that means he has decided to run in the next election, he said, “If this thing goes through, count on it. Count on it. And I’ll win.”

On May 7, Councillor Donna Macdonald gave notice to council that she planned to introduce a motion this week that would ask council to support  Stop the Violence B.C., an initiative aimed at “a health based, regulatory approach to cannabis taxation and control.” Macdonald’s motion asked that the Mayor of Nelson write to the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) and the provincial and federal governments to inform them of Nelson City Council’s support. The Stop the Violence initiative boasts the support of many academics, health experts, and law enforcement experts and includes letters of endorsement from eight B.C. mayors.

The following full transcript of the recorded discussion is long, but it contains some compelling arguments and some provocative statements.

Councillors Cherbo and Adams were out of the gate a split second after Mayor Dooley formally started the discussion by reading aloud Councillor Macdonald’s notice of motion.

Councillor Robin Cherbo: I would like to move that we request that the province or the UBCM do additional policy research on this topic.

Councillor Bob Adams: I second that.

Councillor Donna Macdonald: I don’t think that is quite fair. It’s my notice of motion.

Mayor John Dooley: We have a mover and a seconder.

Councillor Paula Kiss: I would like to move, Mr. Mayor, the motion that you read us originally.

Councillor Cherbo: Well, there is already a motion on the table now, so either vote in favour of it or defeat it.

Mayor Dooley: Would you like to speak to your motion, Councillor Cherbo?

Councillor Cherbo: Yeah, I just feel that it would be better if we got a review by the UBCM on this whole topic and they would come back with a recommendation, and then we wouldn’t be doing it in isolation.

Councillor Adams: I am opposed to smoking, period.  And that includes marijuana. I know a person who got into it and went on to the next one and the next one and I’m sorry I am totally opposed to this. And I have talked to a couple of police officers in Nelson and I think this is not going to work at all. I can’t give a lot of detail.

Councillor Cherbo: Well I would just like to make it clear that I am in favour of the motion but I feel that it would be better if we had the UBCM do research on this and come back with a recommendation and then we would get input from other communities and police officers.

Mayor Dooley: The upside to that is we would be able to bring that to the full membership of municipalities. 

Councillor Kiss: I don’t know where the idea that we are doing this in isolation is coming from, because reading the attachments and other research I have done, it sounds like the understanding that prohibition of cannabis is not working and there are many other communities as attached here, so it is not Nelson in isolation, it is just that , I know I have not been around long enough to experience the prohibition of alcohol but I understand it did not work well and so I just think that looking at better ways to do things and maybe new strategies, and there may have been some of you that talked to police officers that were against this but there are others that are for it. And there are many, many people in the community, myself as one, I would say that regulation, public policy, taxation, control, these are all things we want around marijuana use We don’t want it to be this under the table crime, that is the whole idea behind this.

Mayor Dooley: You’re after the bucks.

Councillor Kiss: Well, yeah.

Mayor Dooley: So we should have a casino too. 

Councillor Kiss: Not necessarily, that is comparing apples and oranges.  Gambling is not illegal.  I just think that we can sweep it under the carpet, we can pretend that prohibition will the solve the problem but it will not, and if you want people with addictions to be able to seek counselling and advice without being criminalized, then prohibition is not the way to encourage people to get help.

Councillor Macdonald: Well, first of all I would like to say that I am very offended at having my notice of motion high-jacked in this manner. I clearly gave a notice, I put the motion forward, and to have it high-jacked like that…

Councillor Cherbo: inaudible comment

Councillor Macdonald: Excuse me. 

Councillor Cherbo: There are other options available.

Councillor Macdonald: At any rate, I don’t really see the need to ask UBCM to do more research, we have it on the Stop the Violence BC website. .There is a coalition of rather eminent people, and they have support for this from the Fraser Institute, from the BC Health Officers, from retired judges and lawyers, from academics specializing in criminology, from the former chief superintendent of the RCMP from the Global Commission on Drug Policy. Good heavens, how much more do you need to know? These people have studied what has happened in other countries, they have studied the history of prohibition, and the conclusion is always the same—that prohibition does not work. All it does is transfer hundreds of millions of dollars into organized crime. It puts our youth at risk because there is no regulation; it is costing tax players huge amounts of money to wage this war that we are failing at. The other approach is so much more logical, we can regulate access just like we do for alcohol we can control the levels of THC so we are not getting crazy cannabis out there that is endangering people,  and we can reduce gang violence. It is a logical, common sense approach, and I don’t think we need more information.

Councillor Candace Batycki: I wish to speak in strong support of Councillor Macdonald’s motion. Like many people in this community I have followed the politics of this for along time. One of the things that I have noticed is that there are social downsides to an underground industry and this has been looked at by these bodies that were just listed. It concerns me greatly when I see the kind of busts in our community where the plants are in their thousands, with weapons on site. We have clear evidence that it is organized crime, it is no longer a mom and pop situation. There are many many things to say in support of this. I commend the mayors and the others that came out as signatories to this letter and I don’t understand it, it is pretty common sense but it is also a brave thing to do publicly, I commend them. 

Mayor Dooley: There’s eight mayors signed and I think there are around 90 mayors in B.C.

Councillor Kozak: Regarding the options that we were given for this motion, the motion that is on the floor at this time that we request that the UBCM do additional policy research on the topic, I gave a lot of thought to this motion before I came to this meeting, and although that is an option it probably will happen, but we cannot duck from this decision or taking a stand or making a statement. I have been reading a wealth of documentation around marijuana, its legalization, its control, and what it means to this province and country and for me this is a common sense thing to do, to regulate and have some legislation around this that makes sense. I am deeply concerned about where the resources of our law enforcement agencies are going as well, and if there were clearer guidelines for law enforcement agencies around legalization of marijuana and as I have read with our police chiefs and mayors who are involved in law enforcement, it seems that is what we need to do. It seems that this is a step forward. This will be debated at UBCM, it will be debated and that is a good thing. But in terms of what makes most sense, we need to make a statement as a community. I am not in favour not doing what is good for our young people. I am speaking against the motion to defer. I think we need to take a stand.

Mayor Dooley: Any further comments? Hearing none, all in favour of the motion? Against? 

Council voted on Councillor Cherbo’s motion to defer to research by the UBCM. Councillors Adams and Cherbo voted in favour. Councillors Kiss, Kozak, Batycki, and Macdonald voted against. 

Mayor Dooley: The motion is defeated.

Councillor Macdonald: I would like to make my motion as it was presented.

Councillor Batycki: I second it.

Mayor Dooley: I won’t be signing this. If it asked of me to sign it, I won’t, based on the mountain of information I have come up with myself. I did take time to read that on the website and the reality of the situation is that 80% of the dope that is grown in BC is for export and legalizing marijuana will not eliminate the underground economy and it will not eliminate organized crime. That comes from several police chiefs that I have spoken to and numerous debates I have had and conversations and at the B.C. Municipal Police board meetings. If we are going to look at a way to manage this situation, I think the first motion was in order, and an opportunity to do some in depth analysis and find out what the impacts really are. The website that is up and running has some in my opinion a number loopholes in it. It talks about taxation and regulation and it talks a lot about minors not being impacted which is not true, because the underground economy will continue. Links between highly potent cannabis are clearly out there and the underground economy will still supply that. Fourteen American states have decriminalized the personal use of cannabis and that is a whole other story, there are 52 states in the U.S. Without federal intervention this will not get to first base anyway. If we were to do this in conjunction with the rest of the provinces and with the U.S. as partners, this would be successful. The four pillars have not been adopted in the drug strategy in Vancouver as an example. No taxation has gone into support those four pillars, and that is a shame. This analysis here does not address any of that, and I think the original motion to bring it to UBCM, have their staff do the analysis, and bring forward a comprehensive report would have suited me. So I am not sure what the ramifications of this motion are should it pass, but I won’t be signing it. 

Councillor Kiss: If you want to change the idea of prohibition you are not going to get everyone on board at once. And all the changes will not be made at once. But someone has to be willing to put their names out there much like it was at the end of alcohol prohibition. Somebody had to make the objection to the status quo.

Mayor Dooley: And that’s fair. That’s fair.

Councillor Kiss: I do think that it is worth sticking our neck out to do that and maybe Canada would influence the U.S. We are not the mouse they the elephant, or however you want to phrase the analogy, Canada could influence international policy. BC mayors are willing to stick their necks out and maybe that impacts Canada, Canada will affect this U.S. and maybe we will see something change  with our cross-border drugs and crimes. Not so long ago, one of our local residents committed suicide in a U.S. jail, and if we…

Mayor Dooley: And you know why.

Councillor Kiss: Yes, and if we have the opportunity to begin a process that will see an end to that….

Mayor Dooley: So eight mayors have signed this, this has not been a landslide, and what I am suggesting here is, I am not opposed to the concept but I am opposed to doing it with this analysis here. It is from one website, and I can pick holes in it you could drive a truck through. My opinion is that we do the proper analysis, and someone can educate us properly. This is a major decision, it could have an impact on our community, positive or negative. I believe based on this document it would have a negative impact because it does not address exactly address the guy flying across the border with a helicopter full of dope that is not for the domestic market is for the American market. They are bringing back cocaine and other drugs to be sold in the local market. Those are the kinds of things that I am concerned about, the well being of our community. This motion does not address any of that, it’s wide open. If it addressed some of those issues, and if the UBCM wanted my opinion, they would have hired professional people to do the analysis, we could have brought it onto the floor of the convention, we could have got broad based support and a comprehensive report brought back to all municipalities and maybe all of them would support it. Right now there are eight mayors.

Councillor Kiss: It has to start someplace. You could drive a truck through the argument for prohibition as well.

Mayor Dooley: I can tell you right now, there are numerous people in this community who give no credence to most of this, to most of what the Fraser Institute has to say on a regular basis, and all of a sudden their word is gospel. So that is an example of what’s in here. Do we agree with what the Fraser Institute comes up with on a regular basis? I don’t think so. And they are quoted in this document right here. What I am suggesting is, do the proper analysis, let’s have an informed decision because this is based on one website. I could not find on that website who’s behind it or who does it in the first place. And we had people in this community run on that platform and they were soundly defeated. This is a real challenge for me. If you want to go ahead with something that does not involve me, go ahead. I will take this to the wall and I will not sign this. 

Councillor Kiss: If a letter, be it from the mayor or from council, went forward, it would start the conversation, it would indicate that municipalities would seriously consider the end of prohibition so we would not involve the direct changing of laws so to me it is just an act of leaders leading, it is not an act of actually changing laws, it is a formal declaration that we want to discuss this, right?

Mayor Dooley: Then to the UBCM one, because that is our avenue. I can assure you will have more impact because that will be a council driven decision. This is driven by a group of people that have set up a website, this is not a council-driven decision. This is a website that has holes in it a mile wide, and I can tell you that if someone drove into this community tomorrow and asked this council, would you put a casino in Nelson what do you think the answer would be? The challenges we face around gambling and deriving revenues form that lifestyle. 

Councillor Kiss: I am not sure that is a good comparison because gambling is not illegal. We are talking apples and oranges.

Mayor Dooley: Organized crime is not out of the gambling business, even though it is legalized.

Councillor Kiss: I am a bit confused by that comparison, but anyway.

Dustin Cantwell, a member of the public and a well-known local marijuana legalization advocate: Are people from the public allowed to speak?

Mayor Dooley: No. 

Mayor Dooley: There is going to have to be compromise on this motion because I will not be signing it. In fact I will be speaking against it every chance I get, based on what’s I front of me today. This is full of holes. As a matter of fact I have a report here from a police chief that outlines many of the holes that are in it. Our police chief.  And it has not even gone by the police board yet.

Councillor Kozak: I understand your passion and your concern. Your concern for the safety of the community and young people and about organized crime. I appreciate that Mr. Mayor, I do. I respect your decision if you choose not to sign a letter, that is your prerogative, to do that. When I read the notice of motion, and I did not restrict my research to the Stop the Violence website, over the past ten or fifteen years what we have seen is an increase in criminal activity and in increase in the cost of policing for the control of marijuana and all the activity that goes around it and it has not really made a difference, in terms of stopping usage, it does not do that…

Mayor Dooley: That is not what is being asked for here you need to be clear on what is being asked for in these documents, what’s being asked for is that this will stop violence. That is where I am challenged with this. There is no evidence that this will stop violence. Organized crime will still have a market for illegal drugs going out of Canada and going back in again. The domestic market is figured to be 10% of the marijuana grown…it’s right here, the police association. It is roughly figured to be 10% of the value, the domestic market cannot support the amount of dope that is grown in Canada. It is shipped to the U.S. Recently on the news, two guys are caught on their hands and knees coming into Canada at Grand Forks with a bag of cocaine. They are not on holidays. The young man unfortunately that committed suicide in Spokane was not flying a helicopter down to go to the movies. He had it full of dope, and that was going to come back in the form of drugs, that is a known fact. That is why we have had our own police personnel embedded in the  border security system, because of the trade of the marijuana industry. That will not change, if I can see evidence to show that that would change. Now let me give you a quote from the police association. “What is being proposed will once again cost money and may or may be achievable unless everybody is on board. Perhaps segments of the proposal are to be considered, attempted, and evaluated before the entire scheme is embraced.” And that is what UBCM would do for us.

Councillor Kozak: I don’t think this motion precludes that. 

Mayor Dooley: The motion is supporting this document here. It is supporting what I believe is a group of people that have tried this on a different level at different times with a totally different strategy. This website is full of holes. As the mayor of this community I am not in good conscience to put our community at risk in supporting this motion because we are talking about the greater good of our community.  This document is not about the about the  greater good of the community it is about the well being of a handful of people who have been pushing the legalization of marijuana for years and have been unsuccessful and this is a totally different approach. If we used the tools that are available to us as a council, the tools that will be analyzed by people that are professionals through the UBCM we will get a proper analysis. This is a decision being made on the basis of one website that I went through with the police chief and there are holes in it you could drive a tank through. It sounds good to say stop the violence. Our police chief would not support that argument. They will support an argument that organized crime will be eliminated from the drug scene. They tell you that a small portion of the drug business is the domestic market. The drug business is about going to the states with bags of dope and bringing back cocaine and other hard drugs to give to children in our schoolyards and I cannot in good conscience stand behind this and I won’t.

Councillor Macdonald: I would like to move the previous question.

Councillor Batycki: I second it.

City Manager Kevin Cormack: I would like to make a suggestion. If the mayor is not going to support it, we change it (so that it reads) “council” (rather than "mayor").

Mayor Dooley: I suggest you change it, period. I will speak against it everywhere I go including at UBCM.

Councillor Macdonald: That’s a totally wrong….

Mayor Dooley: I don’t care. I’m sorry, Councillor Macdonald, I tried to talk to you about this and you refused to listen.

Councillor Macdonald: I beg your pardon.

Mayor Dooley: Yes you did, you sat in my office and then just basically just shrugged your shoulders and walked out. I tried to have this conversation with you and you walked out of my office.

Councillor Macdonald: That is not true.

Mayor Dooley: That is absolutely true. I will stand on this issue, in this community. I will stand on this issue.

Councillor Kiss: If you are in favour of having more research done on this, are you going to continue to speak against it or are you going to allow the UBCM to use their expertise and come up with a conclusion and then would you support the conclusion. 

Mayor Dooley: Absolutely. If UBCM does the proper analysis of this and can demonstrate to the province of B.C. that this will eliminate violence, and eliminate organized crime I will stand behind it.

Councillor Kiss: I think that might be asking for the impossible.

Mayor Dooley: Well there you go. There’s your answer. That is my answer right there. That is exactly what I said from the beginning. That is the impossible because the domestic market is only supporting a small fraction of organized crime. The drugs grown in B.C. are going to the states and hard drugs are brought back to be sold to the youth of this community and the children in our schoolyards. I sit on the police board and I see the evidence and I will not put this community in that position. I see the files at police board meetings and I can tell you if you were privy to some of those files you would not support the drug trade.

Councillor Kiss: Could we change the amendment to be “Council” and not “Mayor?”

Councillor Macdonald: Yes. I would like to move an amendment….

Councillor Adams: Can we put down the names of the councillors that voted for it. I don’t want my name on it either.

Councillor Kozak: Mr. Mayor, before we….

Mayor Dooley: This resolution should never have come forward in this manner. Never. This is the wrong way to bring it forward.

Councillor Kozak: Mr. Mayor, the way you are interpreting this motion is not the same way I interpret it. When you speak about stopping the violence and stopping the violence the huge cost to human lives and tax payer dollars, that is not how I interpret it. When we talk about prohibition and stopping violence, when alcohol was regulated it did stop a lot of violence. What happened was that the violence over who had control over it…

Mayor Dooley: Because everybody did it at the same time. That’s why. It’s very simple.

Councillor Kozak: But there was discussion and people needed to introduce it to be discussed. (inaudible)…..does not lessen the safety of our community, that is not how I read it.

Mayor Dooley: The motion says it has created a large financial opportunity for organized crime, absolutely, increase in violence, absolutely, what I am saying is that market will still be there. When alcohol was legalized it was done across the board in the states and Canada. If you want to put this thing forward, legalizing across the board, we may have an opportunity for success, but as long as you have a jurisdiction surrounding you, Alberta, northwest U.S., just to name two areas that would not buy into this system, illegal growth will continue. You can phone any chief of police in B.C. and they will tell you the same thing. The drugs come back and are shoved in the arms of young children in this community and in all conscience I cannot stand behind that.  I know what our police officers deal with going up the hospital with people. The four pillars were not even introduced in Vancouver in the injections sites. On that note, Holland has just come forward with a proposal to eliminate people coming as drug tourists to their country because it has been so prevalent and so bad that people are coming from all over the world to do drugs and their reputation has gone into the tank because of it. Is that want want for our community? I don’t think so. I will say this once again: I will go to the wall on this. In three years, I will go to the wall. People have stood on that platform before, in Central School and been soundly defeated.

Councillor Kozak: Are you running for another term?

Mayor Dooley: If this thing goes through, count on it. Count on it. And I’ll win.

Councillor Cherbo: I agree with Mayor Dooley and I… inaudible…special bud, high quality bud, it is not somebody growing marijuana in their back yard. The drugs that are grown are grown in grow-ops, high intensity cannabis used specifically for trading into the U.S. and this will not stop violence. If we legalize marijuana for home use it would have not effect. And cocaine and ecstasy and other drugs is what it is traded for.

….inaudible talk by everyone at once….

Mayor Dooley: In this letter right here it says of the 12,000 licences that have been issued by the feds there is no monitoring of any of licences, this is coming from…

Councillor Cherbo: There is so much money involved in the drug trade that this would be like a…

Mayor Dooley:…by the same people that tried to get it legalized before…

Councillor Kiss: The reason we are in this position with the problems and the crime and the high THC, is that prohibition brought us all these problems. The things we are talking about here are here because of prohibition. So both of you have made a convincing case against prohibition because the problems that you cite are here because of prohibition. So I am saying please let us be leaders, starting the conversation about how to come up with a system that is better.

Mayor Dooley: You are saying prohibition has driven it. The reality is if we support this document, this motion, if we do that, prohibition will still continue because we cannot do this in isolation.  The police chiefs of B.C. tell you right there.

Councillor Kiss: But we are not doing it in isolation, we….

Mayor Dooley: But then why don’t we do it the way Councillor Cherbo put forward. If you are so confident in what you say Councillor Kiss, bring it to the UBCM, have them to the analysis, that is a stronger voice than we have right here.

Councillor Kiss: It looks like we may not have any other option, so I guess that is what we will have to do.

Mayor Dooley: If the UBCM passes it, then it will go to the FCM a national body and they can deal with it at the federal level and that is road I would go down, not the chipping away at one mayor at a time. I can tell you right now, all mayors will not sign it. There’s eight mayors on here. At the end of the day they are the guys that call the shots. It’s not the police chief that’s retired, or Ujal Dosanjh who is no longer in politics or Harry Campbell who is now a senator living high off the hog in Ottawa. Those guys have been down the road, they have been elected, they are not in politics any more. The people sitting in these chairs— get all the mayors I B.C. to sign it, I guarantee it will not happen based on this document but you know what? It may happen if you go through UBCM and on to FCM. This is not a feel-good thing. This is not a feel-good thing. I am not about feel-good stuff in this situation here. This is not about politics any more. This is about the right analysis and the well being of our community. This motion was put forward here with no background other than one website that is driven by the same people, Marc Emery and his buddies, he is in jail in the states, check it out, look around you.

Councillor Macdonald: Marc Emery’s name does not appear, there is a list of people who have…

Mayor Dooley: …inaudible…. Same strategy.

Councillor Macdonald: I don’t think the former chief coroner is a friend of Marc Emery.

Mayor Dooley: Check it out, have a look around you. (Three local people well-known as advocates of marijuana legalization were the only members of the public in attendance during this portion of the meeting.)

Councillor Kiss: Can we call the question now?

Mayor Dooley: You will be calling it and I will be saying no, I will be speaking against it every chance I get. So if you want to go down that road, fly at ‘er. But I am not going to put this community in this position. I believe in this community. I raised my children here, I know what can happen with the impact of drugs and alcohol. 

Councillor Adams: Can I move to table this?

Mayor Dooley. I say scrap it. I say scrap it. And I would like to know who the hell wrote it in the first place.

Councillor Adams: Until we can….

Mayor Dooley: Who dictated this motion in the first place? This is a set-up from day one. 

Councillor Macdonald: You are so insulting. 

Mayor Dooley: I’m not talking to you, Councillor Macdonald. 

Councillor Macdonald: I wrote the resolution, so you are insulting.

Mayor Dooley: Did you write it? 

Councillor Macdonald. I did.

Mayor Dooley: You wrote it? I didn’t know that. I’m sorry, I didn’t know. But now that I know at least I know where it came from so I know how to fight it.

Councillor Macdonald: By attacking me.

Mayor Dooley: No, I know how to oppose it, I am happy to do that.

Councillor Kozak: We did have a suggestion from Kevin, from staff, to amend…

Mayor Dooley: I am saying, get it off the table, period.

Councillor Kiss or Councillor Macdonald (inaudible): I would like to move that we defer this motion until the first council meeting after the UBCM convention.

Councillor Kozak: I will second that.

Councillor Macdonald: We are at an ugly stalemate and if it would make people feel better to go to the UBCM and hear what is said there I am happy to wait but I still think, in the interests of good relations, or something, I am happy to wait until  after UBCM, there is no rush on it, this is a part of a larger educational campaign, there is no rush on it, and there is no urgency as much as I would like us to show leadership apparently that is not…

Mayor Dooley: I am showing leadership, in my opinion, in what I believe the community wants. I would say Councillor Macdonald if it is OK with you what Councillor Cherbo proposed in the first place meets that, as a matter of fact it is an opportunity to request UBCM to do something. 

Councillor Macdonald: But this motion is already…

Mayor Dooley: Well, similar wording. The they can make an informed analysis.

Councillor Macdonald: You are assuming that they will, we don’t know, we’ll see what happens. There was a request I read. for a panel discussion on the issue at UBCM. So we can wait and see.

Councillor Kozak: Mr. Mayor, as one who has worked closely with people with addictions when I managed Ward Street Place and worked closely with police as well and I am very interested in the safety of the community as well. I have seen the devastation first hand of what drugs can do to other people. IN terms of bringing that discussion forward and having some common sense and regulatory approach to managing this, I think would make our community safer. But if Councillor Macdonald is comfortable with referring this for discussion after UBCM, I will support that.

Councillor Cherbo: I don’t like the wording of the motion and so this is just referring the problem back to the UBCM. I would sooner see a recommendation coming from UBCM.

Councillor Kiss: Can I call the question?

Mayor Dooley: All in favour? Opposed?

Councillors Kozak, Macdonald, Kiss, and Batycki voted in favour of tabling the discussion until after the UBCM conference in September, and Councillors Cherbo and Adams voted against it.

Mayor Dooley: Carried.  I am opposed, just for the record.

Councillor Kozak: You are opposed?

Mayor Dooley: Absolutely. In that forum.

Councillor Cherbo: I am opposed as well.