Recreational marijuana will be available for sale at private and public retail outlets to people age 19 and older once the drug becomes legal next year, said the B.C. government.
With legalization looming in July 2018, Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth unveiled details Tuesday on how B.C. plans to deal with the distribution and sale of non-medical pot — a move that would require amending or introducing 18 bills in the legislature.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done legislatively,” said Farnworth. “I expect a great deal of the legislative calendar to be taken up by the legalization of cannabis in the spring.
“There will be a lot of work between now and then to make sure we are ready because it is a very tight timeline.”
The federal government will be responsible for overseeing the production of marijuana, quality control and testing while provinces and territories will be in charge of distribution, sale and enforcement.
The province will be the sole distributor of recreational marijuana through the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch.
“Every other province is going through a provincial system,” said Farnworth. “It allows us, I believe, significant control which the public has … said is important.”
Work is underway to hammer out the details of the distribution model, he added, noting that recreational marijuana will require different warehouses than what the LDB currently uses for liquor products.
B.C. Solicitor-General and Public Safety minister Mike Farnworth
Details on the public and private retail model, or whether marijuana will be sold at liquor stores or pharmacies, will not be released until late January to early February. It’s also unclear how the new regulations would affect existing dispensaries operating illegally or in a grey zone across B.C.
Farnworth said municipalities will have a say on how the retail model rolls out in their communities, acknowledging there won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution.
Cities like Vancouver and Victoria have already licensed some marijuana dispensaries, while others, such as Richmond, have indicated they don’t want marijuana storefronts.
Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang welcomed the government’s announcement Tuesday.
A system where private marijuana stores are considered the same as private liquor stores — with the province in charge of licensing and inspection and the city responsible for providing a business licence — would lower business fees for marijuana retailers, which pay up to $30,000 a year for a licence, and lower costs for the city.
“If they adopt that model, which is what we are urging, they do the enforcement and municipalities won’t have a huge cost on this file, aside from routine administration and business licences,” said Jang.
Jang is also waiting to see whether the province would allow marijuana to be sold at government liquor stores or whether it would build stand-alone government pot shops.
Health authorities and the Union of B.C. Municipalities have been vocal against co-location because of health and safety risks.
“We know that ease of availability of any kind of substance increases the risk of addiction and overuse, whether it’s pot or alcohol,” said Jang, who is also co-chair of a joint provincial-municipal committee that issued a position paper on B.C.’s framework for cannabis regulation. “We don’t want to see that (co-location), certainly not at the outset, but maybe in the future once the research is clear as to the risks.”
Vancouver City Councillor Kerry Jang.
A public engagement report released by the government Tuesday found the majority of people were opposed to selling recreational marijuana in liquor stores, while a majority of respondents indicated support for existing marijuana dispensaries.
Kirk Tousaw, a lawyer specializing in cannabis cases, said the province should transition the about 300 illegal dispensaries currently operating in the province to legal operations.
“There’s not much in negatives being caused by these establishments,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of talent in B.C. and we need to harness that and we need to acknowledge that they are pioneers, not criminals.”
Tousaw said the province should also continue to advocate for small-scale craft production to be included in the federal legal mix, so micro-producers in B.C. can flourish and perhaps lead to a thriving marijuana-tourism industry, similar to the wine industry, where visitors can have a “vineyard experience” at cannabis farms.
Tuesday’s announcement came after a consultation process involving close to 50,000 British Columbians and submissions from 141 local governments, First Nations groups and other stakeholders.
Farnworth said marijuana legalization isn’t going to be the lucrative windfall many people expect it to be — at least not immediately as there are plenty of upfront costs the government will have to deal with.
“I have no doubt there will be revenue in the middle- to long-term, but initially our focus is going to be on education, enforcement, and on ensuring the necessary infrastructure for the legalization of cannabis to proceed smoothly in B.C. is the priority,” said Farnworth.