‘The Town That Banned Everything’ Permits Its First Cannabis Store

Cannabis Store green light

It’s been called “the town that banned everything.” It’s been compared to the town in the movie Footloose. But, despite the best efforts of several politicians, it will be getting a cannabis store.

Unless you’re from Southeastern Alberta, the only reasons you might have heard of Taber would have been a deadly 1999 school shooting, its controversial 2015 bylaw that prevents—among other things—swearing, yelling, loitering, and public assembly or its 2018 decision to prevent a Pride flag from flying on public property while allowing anti-choice protesters to erect two benches with their slogan in a town cemetery.

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More recently, Taber made the news by adopting a resolution to lobby the federal government to reconsider cannabis legalization on the grounds that the law is too vague. “It’s not believed that it is going to be a good thing all around to have recreational marijuana being sold here,” said Taber mayor Andrew Prokop in September.

But Taber, and Prokop, seemed to have changed their minds. After eight months of lobbying and attending every council meeting, Taber resident Bruce Decoste convinced the town council to allow cannabis retail within town limits. “It was actually a three-three tie, then the mayor voted for it,” said Decoste. “The whole night was a surprise, I really didn’t think it didn’t go through.”

Everybody smokes cannabis in this town—it’s huge. It’s just the people who are against it just happen to be in power.”
Bruce Decoste, Reckless Vape Shop

Decoste is now in the complex legal process to obtain licensing for a cannabis store. He is the owner of the Reckless Vape Shop, which sells vaping products and accessories. Decoste, who had worked in the oil industry, originally opened Reckless as a tattoo shop, but changed direction due to economic reasons. “When the oil industry crashed, nobody had any money for tattoos, so we transformed it into a vape shop,” he said. “Vaping is big here in Alberta.”

Decoste tells Leafly that he had two reasons that convinced the town to reverse its direction on cannabis shops. The first was simple economics. “I had to go up in front of council and speak,” he said. “I told that we had a major city 40 minutes away and that people will go there for their weed and they’ll buy everything else while they’re there.” He warned that if that happened, there would be dire circumstances for the town of about 8,000, which is about 50 kilometers from Lethbridge, which has almost 100,000 residents. “My vape shop would go down,” he said. “Every store would go down.”

Decoste’s other lobbying point was that the people of Taber really wanted a legal and easy way to obtain cannabis. “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.”

Indeed, Decoste faced stiff opposition to his plan, primarily from councilor Joe Strojwas—who owns the Taber Cold Beer and Liquor Store—and is against the idea of legalizing recreational cannabis. “It’s just being rammed down our throats because the government needs more money—that’s it in a nutshell,” he said. “We’re not ready for this; no community is.”

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Strojwas said that he has two problems with legal recreational cannabis in the community. The first was that he said he believes that, unlike alcohol, people can’t tell when someone has been using cannabis and that would prevent anyone from stepping in to prevent overindulgence, leading to people using too much. “Everything is good in moderation, it’s the same with gambling; it’s good in moderation, smoking is good in moderation, alcohol—everything is good in moderation,” he said. “But how do you deal with the social consequences of people who overindulge in any of this here?”

Strojwas also said that he believes that cannabis is addictive.

Decoste told me he was surprised that very little in the way of opposition was actually directed at him, with critics instead using the media to offer their opinions. “Nobody said a word against it to me,” he said. “All these people who talked big, where were they?”

He also said that he received surprisingly little support from other business owners—at least, before the decision. After the dust cleared, Decoste said that many people have thanked him for his efforts. “I went to bat for them,” he said. “And they appreciate it.”

Since the decision, Decoste said that he has been diligently working his way through the mountains of paperwork that is required to become a legal cannabis retailer in Alberta. “If I’m going to do it,” he told me. “I want to do it right.”

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While waiting for his application to the provincial government to be returned, Decoste said that he is confident that the town council will not reverse its decision. “If they said okay once,” he told me. “I don’t see why they’d say no later.”

Some other communities—including Richmond, BC, and Richmond Hill, ON—have made it clear in letters to their provincial governments that they are opposed to cannabis retailers in their towns. Both are suburban communities within the economic umbrella of the cannabis-friendly cities of Vancouver and Toronto, respectively.