In the lead up to the legalization of cannabis in October 2018, there was little question where the Town of Taber stood on the matter.
The town and its present council led the anti-cannabis charge in the province, passing restrictive land use amendments, prohibitive licensing fees, and even seriously considering a proposal to relegate any potential cannabis retail locations to a tight zone deep within the industrial area — mostly in the face of good advice from their own administration and planning department who often advocated for a more liberalized cannabis regime in the municipality to help promote investment and create jobs.
Council even pushed the matter all the way to the 2018 annual general meeting of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA), where they tried to marshal support from their colleagues across the province for Taber’s anti-legalization resolution.
Not surprisingly, the resolution went down to a dismal defeat at the hands of the AUMA’s membership — most of whom either realized the futility of trying to fight federal legislation at the municipal level, or understood that the industry represented potential economic opportunity rather than wholesale social chaos.
It seems clear now that council profoundly misjudged the potential for economic development that accompanied legalization, both in the lead up and now under the post-legalization regime, because while many neighbouring communities of similar size across the province and country are cashing in heavily on the twin dividends of investment and jobs from cannabis production and retail — a multi-billion dollar industry in Canada that sprouted up almost overnight — Taber has largely been watching from the sidelines as others see the dollars rolling in from new grow-ops and retail storefronts. It’s hard to convince investors that your community is an attractive choice when its political leadership has essentially declared the municipality — both loudly and publicly — as an enemy of the cannabis industry.
To be fair, taking an oppositional stance on an issue like cannabis legalization shouldn’t necessarily be condemned outright, especially if you’re willing to forego millions in potential investment to seat yourself upon a perceived moral high horse. The only trouble with that concept is that in recent weeks and months, the town hasn’t been sticking to its guns on that front.
Recently on the town’s website information has quietly appeared lauding the community’s industrial amenities and seeking to attract cannabis production and processing facilities under headlines such as “Come Grow in Taber!” as well as information on retail licensing and business opportunities.
The appearance of such information must come as a surprise to anyone who witnessed the painful public stumbles of the present council toward a cannabis regulatory regime throughout 2018.
And now in June, council has moved to strike a previous zoning restriction to allow cannabis production facilities in light industrial areas rather than restricting them to medium industrial.
The resolution passed without so much as a whimper from a council that had condemned legalization and the industry only a scant few months ago.
While progress is certainly progress, the Town of Taber will have a long road to travel before it can finally wash its hands of much of the fear-mongering legislation it passed in the lead-up to legalization, where uninformed stereotypes found fertile ground and morality appeared to trump economic considerations.
If the municipality ever hopes to cash in on the cannabis boom while the industry is still spreading fledgling wings, doing what it can to sanitize its anti-cannabis past would be a good place to start.