"Rooooooooll another one,"
"Just like the other one."
- Elliot Ingber and Larry Wagner
The 1985-86 ski season was a watershed moment in the development of Blackcomb Mountain. Up to that time—and especially when Whistler Mountain installed the village gondola a few years earlier—Blackcomb was the asthmatic new kid on the block, having opened in 1981 with limited, mid-mountain skiing, and was never taken seriously by either Franz Wilhelmsen or die-hard Whistler skiers. While skiers at Whistler enjoyed, albeit having to hike, the bowls we ride today, Blackcomb petered out at the top of lift No. 6, what is now the Jersey Cream chair. Imagine that, you newbies.
But prior to the '85-86 season, Peter Xhignesse, Blackcomb's all-around patrol trainer, weatherman and avalanche person, had an idea. A crazy idea. A radical idea. He became fascinated with the expansive, rocky, south-facing slope of the mountain, a fairly constant intermediate pitch falling towards Fitzsimmons Creek. Good terrain, good pitch and, most important of all, an entrée into the real alpine on Blackcomb.
Perhaps most important of all, he had Hugh Smythe ultimately calling the shots at the mountain. So he pitched his idea. Hugh's initial thought was, "Why would we build a lift on the south-facing slope—the windward side no less—of the mountain?" But he remembered some of his own brash, crazy, radical ideas that had paid off in the past and ultimately bought into the idea. He even went so far as to 'find' a T-bar Fortress Mountain didn't need—long story—and installed it on that south-facing slope just in time for the season's opening.
Overnight, Big, Bold Beautiful Blackcomb—early marketing slogan—became the Mile High Mountain and lift No. 7 opened up a whole new world for those willing to ride the long T-bar. Horstman Glacier lay before them on the north side. Secret Bowl, Cougar Chutes, Saudan's 42° face and the high traverse to the Showcase face offered a short hike to Spanky's, the Blowhole and Blackcomb Glacier.
When the dust finally settled, Hugh remembered a chance encounter he'd had at Stevens Pass in 1965—another long story. Given the confluence of the T-bar being lift No. 7, the whole area opened up was dubbed 7th Heaven. On the strength of the promise of offering the highest vertical drop in North America, Blackcomb sold a sufficient number of incremental season passes to cover the installation costs of the purloined T-Bar. In the years that followed, they sold enough "Go to Heaven - Ski Like Hell" t-shirts to practically cashflow future mountain improvements.
It was a crazy idea. The best kind of crazy.
And for many, getting into the cannabis business is a crazy idea. Especially if you're, say, a municipality.
Or is it?
Pemberton councillor Ted Craddock blew some colleagues' minds when he suggested maybe, just maybe, Pemby ought to be the one who holds the licence to sell cannabis retail. Whoa, Ted; whatcha been smokin'?
Whatever it was, Mayor Mike Richman and fellow councillor James Linklater supported the motion and, presumably, staff are busy looking into the possibility. As Ted said, "I don't want to miss an opportunity that's only going to come up in our lifetime maybe once."
And legal cannabis is just that kind of opportunity. Legal pot is the biggest change in the world of controlled substances since the repeal of Prohibition. If the groundbreaking experiments with legalization that have taken place in Colorado and other U.S. states—in the face of federal law that still treats it as a controlled narcotic—profits and taxes have rolled in faster than they can be counted.
In the Great White Soon-to-be-Smoky North, the feds and provinces have agreed on how they're going to divide their tax take—25 per cent for JT, 75 per cent for the provinces—but the provinces have been mum on how and how much of that windfall might find its way to municipalities, who will bear the brunt of many of the costs associated with legal cannabis.
So that crazy idea is beginning to look like it makes more and more sense. Why should the RMOW, who is busy trying to decide how, where and how many retail outlets Tiny Town should enjoy, leave their/our share of the bounty to the largesse of Victoria? It could be argued we experience enough perennial hand wringing over whether and to what extent RMI funds will continue to be doled out notwithstanding the Brinks cars full of cash that travel down the Sea to Sky highway to Victoria in the form of tax revenue every day.
If we don't want to soil our hands and actually get into the retail business, why wouldn't we at least consider holding the licence and leasing the operation on a profit-sharing basis?
While I'm certain there are any number of private enterprisers who are eager to open up a Mom & Pot shop on the Village Stroll, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the absurdity of MLA Sturdy's objection to Pemberton's plan. Echoing the Chamber of Commerce concerns, Jordan was quoted as saying, "I think that government has a role to play in our society—no question about that—but I don't think they should necessarily be competing with the private sector. I am not entirely comfortable with local government manufacturing a monopoly."
As it does with, say, alcohol? Or auto insurance? Or, for that matter, cannabis—at least so far as to set the price at which it can be sold, the packaging requirements, etc.
In fact, it makes the most sense for local government to get into the pot business. It represents one of the few avenues available to generate revenue and control the conduct of an unfortunately controversial social experiment.
Those who are positioned to become major players in the legal cannabis world are busy branding their soon-to-be-legal product. Whistler is already a well-known, international brand. We're ahead of the curve in a world where those who imbibe will savour a chance to try Whistler Wowee! I mean, look at the rich pot culture we already enjoy. Not just BC Bud but, closer to home, Tokum Corners, Zig-Zag, Ross' Gold. Oops, that one's already taken.
Time to be bold. Time to look to a future where we have options other than increasing property tax to make up a funding shortfall. I mean, it's not like we're going into the casino business... which, come to think of it....
So let's light up some conversation about this. Let's see who's bold and who wants to bogart this idea. And let's always remember the advice we give visitors: Ski like a local—get high, stay high.