Edmonton

Mellow out on cannabis enforcement costs in 2019 budget, Edmonton councillor says

The city could spend less money enforcing cannabis-related bylaws than police are calling for, says Coun. Ben Henderson.

'The kind of problems that we've had with people driving stoned and things like that have always existed'

Edmonton police want to hire 24 new officers dedicated to enforcing cannabis bylaws. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The city could spend less money enforcing cannabis-related bylaws than police are calling for, says Coun. Ben Henderson.

Henderson said relaxing enforcement could save the city $5 million a year.

"It was a little bit like Y2K," he said. "Everybody imagined the crisis coming when cannabis got legalized, I don't think that's happened."

In a budget presentation to council last week, city police asked for 24 new officers to deal exclusively with cannabis-related cases, like enforcing impaired-driving bylaws. The new hires alone would cost more than $3 million. 

"I've never been convinced that cannabis usage is going to go up, particularly; that all the kind of problems that we've had with people driving stoned and things like that have always existed."

Henderson said some costs related to zoning and smoking rules are a reality but he doesn't want the city to overdo it.

Mayor Don Iveson blames the Alberta government for leaving cities pay for enforcement cannabis-related laws. 

The province committed $11.2 million for all municipalities with populations of more than 5,000 people, which translates to $1.1 million a year for Edmonton, an amount Iveson said is a tenth of what the city wanted.
The city has invested in education campaigns to inform people about cannabis bylaws. (City of Edmonton)

"We're in a real tough spot over cannabis,"  Iveson said. "Whether our actual costs is $8 or $10 or $12 or $16 million for cannabis, the $1.1 million isn't enough."

The federal government is letting the province keep 75 per cent of the tax from cannabis and most councillors have expressed frustration that the province isn't coming forward with a revenue-sharing deal with cities and towns.

Iveson said he's going to ask Ottawa to mandate the province create a revenue-sharing deal.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci stuck to his offer in October and said he's not about to increase it.

Iveson said there's still uncertainty around the impact of cannabis, but he is determined not to let the costs be transferred to taxpayers.

@natashariebe

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