Hamilton's mayor is diversifying. In addition to being head of city council, Fred Eisenberger is a new shareholder in a medicinal marijuana growing company.
'If I was terribly worried about it, I probably wouldn't have done this.' - Fred Eisenberger on the optics of him investing in pot
Eisenberger says he, his wife and his family are shareholders in a local licensed production facility he won't name.
He saw it as an "investment opportunity" about six months ago, he says, and "I thought it was a good idea."
Eisenberger's investment came to light on Wednesday, when he declared a conflict of interest in a debate about marijuana production facilities on farmland. Council members declare conflicts when they stand to benefit financially from decisions.
The mayor stresses it's a medicinal marijuana company, although he doesn't judge anyone who uses pot recreationally. In July, marijuana use will be legal in Canada, with marijuana sold in Ontario through the LCBO.
Eisenberger said he's not worried about the optics of investing in pot.
"If I was terribly worried about it, I probably wouldn't have done this," he said. "In hindsight, I might have thought through the ramifications a little more, but I probably would have done it."
'I don't believe the greenbelt was intended to grow marijuana. It was intended to grow food.' - Coun. Lloyd Ferguson
Eisenberger said overall, it seemed like a good investment in a "growing field."
He'll declare a conflict for discussions related to licensed facilities, he said. He won't for discussions about illegal pot dispensaries. His absence from debates comes at a time when council is likely facing a number of sticky issues around marijuana growing facilities.
In the past, Hamilton's most pot-friendly mayoral candidate has been Michael Baldasaro, who not only ran for mayor a number of times but also ran for the Marijuana Party. Baldasaro was a reverend in the self-created Church of the Universe, a religious sect that uses marijuana as a sacrament. He died last year at age 67.
Baldasaro's name was often seen as synonymous with pot in Hamilton. "I smoke marijuana, medicinally," he told CBC Hamilton. "'God's Tree of Life is for the healing of the nations.'"
Eisenberger said he respected Baldasaro. "I miss him."
"Most of my campaigns had Michael as a part of them, and he was a smart guy."
The most recent marijuana-related issue councillors discussed was about growing facilities on farmland.
Lloyd Ferguson, Ancaster councillor, said growers want to build "2,000 square metre bunkers" on greenbelt land in his ward. He thinks that land should be used for farming food, not large buildings for growing marijuana. That will be debated later this month.
"Whether you're growing cucumbers or growing marijuana, are they the same?" he said.
"I don't believe the greenbelt was intended to grow marijuana. It was intended to grow food."
Ferguson wants a report showing what land use planning rules are in place.