A pot shop referendum should be on local ballot

There are very few things that call for an application of direct democracy in a community. Generally, we have been well served by those elected to office in order to make decisions on behalf of the entire community, but there are a couple of controversial issues wherein the community should be consulted through referendum. One of those issues is whether a community should allow the establishment of a retail cannabis outlet within the bounds of their municipality.

One might think municipal politicians would be quite open to the idea, as a clear expression of the will of the people would relieve them of the burden of dealing with an issue that has in some ways been unfairly thrust upon them by the government’s decision to allow communities to “opt out” of hosting such a business.

Certainly there is plenty of precedence for such a referendum, as Island communities once voted to keep themselves “dry” during the years roughly contemporary to the American Prohibition on alcohol. Island communities then had to vote themselves “wet” again when the public mood switched. But in both cases, the hotly contested decision required considerable buy-in from the communities in order to pass muster.

Since the availability of marijuana products will be available online, and undoubtedly in larger urban centres, should the decision be against (as it most likely would be given past experiences), those wishing to partake in a legal substance would still be able to access the weed.

There is, of course, the danger that the decision to not allow retail cannabis stores to set up shop in a municipality would bolster the black market, but that would be part of the debate leading up to the referendum, along with other considerations. But the decision would be that of the community itself.

Then there is the whole pot tax distribution a la gas tax that a municipality could be forfeiting should they not decide to play ball with the neighbourhood retail store concept. There are a lot of things to consider—but again that is something that would play a part in the debate.

Otherwise, most local politicians would be likely to err on the side of caution and vote to not allow such establishments to gain a foothold in the community. This is one instance, however, where the decision either way should be backed up with a mandate of its own.

The referendum need not be binding, but could act as a clear bell weather for the politicians who have had the decision thrust upon them by an upper tier of government.

The Expositor calls on each Island municipality to put the question on the ballot, and directly to the people, in the upcoming municipal elections.