ALBERTA TOWN THAT FOUGHT BACK AGAINST LEGALIZATION NOW BRACING FOR BUD
Some residents claim ‘everyone’ already smokes up in the town that famously banned spitting, yelling and swearing
After Taber council voted in favour, one resident rushed application for dispensary thestar.com
TABER—A sign paid for by an antiabortion group looms over a church parking lot directly across from Taber’s town hall. The black-and-white sign reads, “Love Life, Save the Family,” around a large cross and a silhouette of a family.
It’s not a jarring sight in the small, famously conservative town in southern Alberta.
Taber has just one main street, but 16 churches serving its population of 8,400. Its council passed a bylaw in 2015 that bans yelling, screaming, swearing and loitering in public. Outside the political sphere, Taber is known as the Corn Capital of Canada, a brand that inspires counterfeit Taber Corn stands across the province every summer.
Last November, Taber councillors asked the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association to lobby against the federal government’s plan to legalize cannabis, and in August, they voted to ban public use of the drug. And yet, marijuana users found cause for celebration on Sept. 24 when the council voted 4-3 to allow dispensaries in town, as long as they are 100 metres or farther from schools and hospitals.
The narrow victory can be attributed in part to people like Bruce Decoste, a former oilfield worker who attended meetings for months to advocate for what he believes is a silent majority of 420-friendly Taberites.
“I spent eight months with them on every council meeting because I was pushing for it. I think everybody gave up, but I didn’t. I kept going and going and going. And then finally they allowed it,” said Decoste.
His current store, Reckless Vape Shop, is highly visible along a major highway and sells marijuana-related accessories. He said long-haul truckers often stop in to buy his products. Speaking inside his bright-green store last Thursday, Decoste said he plans to open the first pot shop in Taber.
“I actually picked up my application yesterday from the town. So it’s going to happen.”
Decoste worried that without retail stores in town, people would drive to nearby municipalities like Lethbridge to get pot. Some might then buy groceries and run other errands while they were out, leaving Taber businesses in the dust.
Despite Taber’s conservative reputation, Decoste said people are smoking pot all over town, even if they’re not doing it out in the open. The 53-year-old said everyone who comes through his doors, from age 18 to 80, tells him they already use it.
“Everybody smokes cannabis in this town. It’s huge,” he said. “It’s just the people who are against it just happen to be in power.”
Councillor Joe Strojwas has been a vocal opponent of legalization and voted against allowing retail stores. He said Ottawa did not do enough consultation with communities and has not made money available to help them deal with the change.
“It’s just being rammed down our throats because the government needs more money. That’s it in a nutshell. We’re not ready for this. No community is,” he said.
Strojwas, who owns Taber Cold Beer and Liquor Store, said selling alcohol is different because he believes it’s easier to tell when someone is intoxicated from alcohol, and therefore easier to stop serving them before they overindulge.
“Everything is good in moderation. Same with gambling; it’s good in moderation, smoking is good in moderation, alcohol — everything is good in moderation. But how do you deal with the social consequences of people who overindulge in any of this here?” Strojwas said.
“WE’RE NOT READY FOR THIS. NO COMMUNITY IS.”
Councillor Joe Strojwas
Reckless Vape Shop owner Bruce Decoste in his store in Taber, Alta. He spent eight months attending council meetings advocating for marijuana. He’s now hoping to open Taber’s first pot shop.