PHOTOS: St. Albert’s iconic City Hall. Below: St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron, City Councillor Ken MacKay, anti-smoking lobbyist Les Hagen, and former mayor Nolan Crouse.

ST. ALBERTA, Alberta

An arresting news story in a community newspaper on Saturday claimed Ottawa’s plan to legalize marijuana this summer will result in more than $3.5 million in additional costs to the Edmonton dormitory community of St. Albert, plus continuing extra expenses of up to $2.2 million a year.

According to the St. Albert Gazette, the source of this claim is a report by the city’s manager of corporate planning, which St. Albert City Council will review tonight. The report, said the paper, estimates “one-time and ongoing costs for 2018” for this suburb of some 65,000 souls “at between $1.96 million and $3.53 million, while recurring costs are estimated to fall between $1.6 million and $2.2 million.”

Furthermore, the report by Paul Edginton warned, these extra costs could rise by 50 per cent again by summertime, when pot is supposed to become a legal substance.

The story continues: “The majority of costs are expected to be for enforcement, with the city budgeting for up to 10 new RCMP officers and up to five new municipal enforcement officers at a cost of between $1.2 million and $2.5 million.” (Emphasis added.)

So, think about this: Legalizing a substance that used to be illegal, which common sense would suggest would reduce enforcement costs, is going to create the need for nearly 6,000 new police officers nationwide, plus another 3,000 municipal enforcement officers?

Good try, but this is highly unlikely.

A word of advice off the top, St. Albert had better be singing from the same hymnbook as other municipalities in Alberta or the city administration is going to look plenty foolish when this report lands on someone’s desk at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.

That said, you can count on it that St. Albert is not the only municipality where this kind of thing is being tried. It’s likely similar claims will be made by municipal officials across Canada this winter and spring as municipal officials try to press Ottawa and their provincial capitals for more cash.

Fair enough. Senior governments have been downloading the costs of federal and provincial policies on municipalities for generations. But unless officials in Ottawa and Edmonton have been smoking banana peels (which remain legal for this purpose, by the way), actually getting any money from this effort is almost certain to remain a pipe dream, if readers will forgive the expression.

In addition to the highly doubtful proposition a massive nationwide increase in policing resources will be needed because of pot legalization, most other costs cited in the report are in reality likely to be insignificant.

For example, the cost of drafting bylaw revisions that may be required by pot decriminalization and ongoing police enforcement of intoxicated-driving laws are both mostly fixed costs, already largely in the budget, as the report half-heartedly concedes. Anyway, how complicated is it to insert the words “and cannabis” after the word “tobacco” in a smoking bylaw?

The anti-smoking lobby group Action on Smoking and Health – inevitably know as ASH – and its always energetic leader Les Hagen want the bylaw amended to include hotel rooms, which makes sense. But St. Albert needs not panic about this. It can be left to local hoteliers to enforce their own no-smoking-room policies until the city legal department manages to find the time to draft a new bylaw.

Another cost cited by the report was the need for a communications plan. In the spirit of public service – and since I understand the St. Albert Communications Department has been booted out of City Hall and has even less idea about what’s going on than the rest of us citizens – I’ll draft a communications plan right now for use by the city. Here it is, with my permission to use it without cost to taxpayers: “Hey folks, the province has new rules about the use of legal cannabis. Please go to to check them out.” I’ll even do a second draft if city officials think the tone of this one is too flip.

This peculiar story raises some serious local issues too. For the past couple of years supporters of a group of supposed budget hawks on council who didn’t like St. Albert’s former mayor lobbied tirelessly for a Police Committee to deal with this kind of stuff.

The most ridiculous claim made by this group was that the former mayor, Nolan Crouse, was somehow influencing how the RCMP did their work. Another was that this unneeded expense was needed “to fill a communication void within the city.”

Eventually, the previous council did their bidding, and now we have a nine-member committee that’s supposed to be in charge of policing. So what have we heard about this from these fillers of the communications void on this startling policing issue? Crickets.

So why did we form this committee again? To provide an election platform for unsuccessful right-wing candidates?

Well, St. Albert City Council has one former police officer among its elected members, the eminently sensible and progressive Ken MacKay. Perhaps he can provide some guidance to the committee and his fellow council members.

Unfortunately, the current communications void also seems to extend to Mayor Cathy Heron. According to the Gazette, she was not available at press time – in itself troubling, as for a decade St. Albertans have been used to a mayor who did the communications part of the job superbly well, and was always available to media.

Ms. Heron told the local paper in December, soon after her election last fall, that while she hoped to get assistance from the province with the additional expenses stemming from pot legalization, “I don’t think it’s going to be a huge cost.”

Was she not made aware by city officials or Police Committee members of the concern expressed in this report?

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  1. This is such a ridiculous brouhaha, not only in St. Albert but In Edmonton and elsewhere as well. I cannot see that there would be such a great increase of pot smokers when this becomes legal or the requirement for additional law enforcement.
    It is not as if all the potential new pot smokers are just waiting for it to be legal. People who smoke pot, already made that choice, legal or not.

  2. Yes it is funny that St. Albert or any other Police Agency needs more Police to deal with legal cannabis. What was their excuse when POT was illegal. I drive by the St. Albert RCMP Station several times a week and have done so since they moved there and I swear that some of those police cars have not turned a wheel in months. Yet there are motor vehicle idiots on the St. Albert Trail making all kinds of dangerous manoeuvres and you never see a cop patrolling for these type of issues.

  3. There’s an easy solution (easy enough for me—and I’m stoned right now—so it should be even easier for straight people): to defray the costs of legalizing Cannabis, alls you gotta do is illegalize a substitute.
    Banana peel would be good.
    Just smoked some—and it’s, like, pretty good! All kinds of crazy ideas coming into my head—like, man! I’m super fried!

    I can hear it now: “Your Honour, my client merely found exhibit A [banned banana substance] and was on his way to the police station to turn it in when the constables arrested him.”

  4. “Anyway, how complicated is it to insert the words ‘and cannabis’ after the word ‘tobacco’ is a smoking bylaw?”

    They don’t write bylaws, they hire consultants for that. $$$$

    (BTW, is typo.)

  5. I can see some increased workload for Bylaw enforcement officers to ensure municipal & provincial rules around zoning, retailing, sales to minors, consumption in public spaces, etc. are adhered to… but increased policing for a now-legal substance? Puhleese.

  6. Has any City or police Dept ever said that they have too many police officers. Seems to me that they slways want more.

  7. David:

    just want to try and disabuse you of your and apparently others’ perceptions of the new Policing Committee in St. Albert and the impetus to get it in place. Contrary to your comments that the people behind its creation were or are right-wing ideologues, I don’t think I am either. I know that you’re not a fan of Cam McKay and some other remnants from the previous council but short of his support for the concept of a policing committee he had little to do with its creation, and I’m not about to defend him. In actual fact the folks behind it – all four of us – were not politically motivated but rather were tired of the complete lack of direction by and oversight of the RCMP in our city. The various “Policing Plans” trotted out by successive RCMP inspectors were total cookie-cutters from Ottawa via “K” Division – we examined others from other jurisdictions and they were eerily similar – that in no way reflected the then current crime and safety concerns the of St. Albert citizenry. There were also no metrics or evaluation of policing in the city and little if any opportunity for citizen input into policing priorities either, something that we hoped a committee might resolve.

    My reason for becoming involved in the development of the committee was to, in some small way, ensure the safety of the RCMP members in St. Albert and give them some sort of voice, in light of the report from the Moncton RCMP shootings that highlighted the RCMP’s intransigence around its own members’ safety , the numerous Labour Code violations by the local RCMP enumerated in the report into the shooting death of Cst. David Wynn at the Apex Casino that also highlighted their failure to recognize pre-existing safety issues and the constant complaints we have heard from serving members about the lack of resources and the often skeleton staff of officers on the street in our community.

    Believe me David my involvement had nothing to do with politics, as some may have suggested to you. And I’m proud of my involvement as a less-than-right-wing ideologue.


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