British Columbia going down the road to pot

Province releases first decisions on cannabis regulation after public engagement

After receiving input from 48,951 British Columbians and submissions from 141 local and Indigenous governments and other interested stakeholders, the provincial government made some decisions on the anticipated legalization of non-medical cannabis in July 2018.

On Dec. 5, the NDP government announced the following policy decisions:

Minimum age

The Province will set the minimum age to possess, purchase and consume cannabis at 19 years old. A minimum age of 19 is consistent with B.C.’s minimum age for alcohol and tobacco and with the age of majority in B.C.

Wholesale distribution of cannabis

Like other provinces, B.C. will have a government-run wholesale distribution model. The BC Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) will be the wholesale distributor of non-medical cannabis in B.C.

Retail sale of cannabis

The Province anticipates establishing a retail model that includes both public and private retail opportunities and will share details regarding the model in early 2018.

From Sept. 25 to Nov. 1, 2017, the public and stakeholders were asked to share their input and expertise on a range of issues related to the regulation of non-medical cannabis in B.C., including minimum age, personal possession, public consumption, drug-impaired driving, personal cultivation, wholesale distribution and retail models.

Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth says the policy decisions also reflect the feedback received from the local government members of the Joint Provincial-Local Government Committee on Cannabis Regulation (JCCR) and are endorsed by the Union of B.C. Municipalities executive.

“We thank all British Columbians who provided their input during the important public and stakeholder engagement process.

He adds B.C. still has a number of key decisions to make as it prepares for the legalization of cannabis.

City of Quesnel council went through the options with a fine-toothed comb and submitted its comments and preferences to the Province.

Mayor Bob Simpson says council stated its preference to have the sale of non-medical cannabis to go through the public domain or liquor store.

“The minute they go into that private or public/private retail model – for small communities like ours, we become the regulator and it becomes a burden throughout business licence process, policing function and everything else.

“It escalates the loading on the municipalities because we’re the permitting and policing authority.”

He adds another burden on local governments is dealing with the ability for the general public to grow its own marijuana, and the provincial government hasn’t spoken to that aspect yet.

“Who’s going into every household counting plants? If you have renters, you get into the landlord and tenant issues.

“We need tools to manage that in a meaningful way.”

Simpson notes the Province hasn’t commented on revenue sharing.

He adds local governments know both the federal and provincial governments are well aware of the issue.

“As I warned council on the night we passed our [input] resolution, I don’t think there’s this gold mine of revenue in the tax that’s proposed by the feds.

“So we have to be careful to not link it directly to whatever revenue they’re getting from the sale of cannabis.

“It has to be revenue relative to the burden that we’re going to have to bear. It has to cover the incremental costs and we don’t care if it comes from cannabis or it comes from general taxation. It has to be a real-cost underwriting.”

The mayor says the real problem for local governments in B.C. and probably across the country are the number of marijuana dispensaries popping up everywhere.

“Most of their activities will continue to be illegal post legalization of cannabis because their sourcing of the marijuana in most locations is from unregulated, unlicensed sources.”

He adds medical marijuana is supposed to be delivered by mail from licensed and registered producers that are sanctioned by the federal government.

“When you go in these medical dispensaries that are spread throughout, they’re sourcing their marijuana from illicit sources that will remain illicit.

This is the problem with going to a private model, Simpson says, adding if you go to the public model [liquor stores], they’re going to take it from the properly designated growers through the distribution model and that’s the only thing they’re going to provide.

“If you go into a private dispensary, you don’t know where it’s coming from, so you could mixing the illicit source with the legal one.”

It becomes a real problem from a policing perspective, he concludes.

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