Perhaps it is the science part of the political science field that fascinates me the most. When I graduated from engineering over 20 years ago I remember telling myself, no more tests. It wasn’t the studying I disliked – I disliked the tests. In fact, the major cause of my stress was the tests. After graduating from engineering I joined the work force and later when I became a full time parent, keeping up with the demands of engineering was not an option. To make a long story short, about ten years ago I set out to explore the community of Aurora through a lens, and following a progressive path I started to look at the community from a political perspective. I am not a politician and I have no intention of becoming one but as I mentioned earlier, it’s the science part of politics that I find intriguing.
On January 21st, 2019 Aurora Council made a decision to opt-in and allow recreational cannabis stores in Aurora. Perhaps one day you’ll be walking by one of those stores in Aurora and wonder how did that happen? Well, telling you now, the municipal government is your source.
It was definitely an interesting January 21st, 2019 evening at the Town Council when the decision was made to opt-in on opening up recreational cannabis stores in Aurora. I attended the meeting to watch the community input and Council deliberation. However, Aurora Council did not deliberate. After watching the meeting in person, listening to the angry outbursts, hearing the Mayor’s and Council’s reasoning for their decision, I was drawn to express my objective views.
In the only public consultation meeting before the provincial government January 22nd opt-out deadline, the people of Aurora had their last chance to voice their concerns publicly at Town Hall chambers (3 min per person). A last chance to voice their concerns for either option: to opt-in or opt-out of opening recreational cannabis stores in Aurora. That evening Aurora Town Council voted to opt-in, a non-reversible option even though the opt-out option would reserve the right to opt-in at a later date.
Was Council’s opt-in decision for recreational cannabis stores in Aurora the right one? I don’t know. In my opinion, it is one of those things where caution is required if proceeding. Cannabis is not a sugar or salt. Cannabis is a drug. Recreational cannabis consumption is now legal in Canada and recreational cannabis products are available online in Ontario, regulated by age. Anyone of the legal age of 19 years old in Canada can purchase and consume recreational cannabis products. Therefore, regardless of the Council decision, online access to recreational cannabis exists.
It was an emotional night for many community members at the Council chambers. It seemed emotions of fear, sadness and anger dominated the crowd, and challenged the happiness of some prior to the meeting and before the decision was being made. Through the noise of some no-argument concerns and emotions, I heard from the opt-out community one important concern that is hard to ignore – visual attracts, store fronts attract. To magnify the effect, add peer pressure and curiosity. The concern was not about access to recreational cannabis since recreational cannabis is legal. The concern was attracting healthy youth and even healthy 19 plus adults via a physical store front in Aurora. Furthermore, not everyone will be addicted but some will.
Addiction to drugs is big and never affects just one person, it affects a circle of people. Addiction affects families, friends and communities. It is a fact that cannabis products can be addictive. The opt-out supporting public asked Council not to rush into the opt-in decision; they seemed to have no issue with medical cannabis use or access to recreational cannabis via online.
Some secondary concerns in support of the opt-out argument were presented such as negligible provincial funding, decreased health of the real estate market, dis-interest in doing business in Aurora, and pollution were mentioned. Funding or no funding, enforcement of the Ontario Cannabis laws is sure to consume local law enforcement resources. There is no real evidence that the real estate market will be affected, it is such a dynamic market; however, it may potentially affect individual sellers. In principle, since recreational cannabis stores are legit and government regulated, there shouldn’t be discrimination against businesses. Since recreational cannabis is now legal I don’t think pollution is a strong argument. It is going to happen regardless of the store front or not.
That evening at Council, a smaller opt-in supporting group also spoke. Watching their delegations, in my opinion, their arguments presented that evening would not have been strong enough to convince Council if the Aurora Council was solely basing their decision on the community voices heard that evening. Here are few I thought were worth mentioning.
Discussion at the Council chambers was about opening recreational cannabis store fronts and had nothing to do with medical cannabis. Recreational cannabis is illegal for all those under the age of 19; therefore, it would be illegal to give children with medical conditions recreational cannabis. Also, I understand that recreational cannabis can help with pain management or stress management; however, the fact that it is called recreational cannabis means it’s expected to target healthy consumers.
I also want to mention that the argument for consumption of alcohol and smoking tobacco, in my opinion, would have been a better argument for the opt-out group. My reason is that banning alcohol and tobacco from the market today would seem impossible. Similarly, opt-in means no going back. Both alcohol and smoking tobacco were introduced with many benefits to society, and where are we now? There are substantially more cons than pros. Lastly, if one were to research the history of alcohol, note that it started with medicinal uses.
“In the sixteenth century, alcohol (called “spirits”) was used largely for medicinal purposes. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the British parliament passed a law encouraging the use of grain for distilling spirits. Cheap spirits flooded the market and reached a peak in the mid-eighteenth century. In Britain, gin consumption reached 18 million gallons and alcoholism became widespread.” Source: Alcohol A Short History.
To conclude, if Aurora Council were to base their decision solely on the input from people at the Council chambers that night, in my opinion, the larger opt-out community had better arguments to win Council’s decision. However, Aurora Council did not base their decision on the input of those people in chambers and chose to opt-in to open recreational cannabis stores in Aurora.
I don’t think anybody really knows how cannabis stores will affect the Aurora community, so it is a ‘watch and see what happens‘ scenario for now. But hearing that there is already a shortage of recreational cannabis in Ontario and knowing that we are surrounded by other municipalities that chose to opt-out of recreational cannabis store fronts in their communities, one can only assume that Aurora’s pot economy will be booming.
Anna Lozyk Romeo