Editorial: Retail cannabis plan mixes good with the bad

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There is much to praise in the B.C. government’s new retail regulatory regime for recreational cannabis. But there are also a few oddities which suggest Victoria hasn’t moved beyond reefer madness as far as we thought.

Handing responsibility for licensing and oversight of private pot shops to the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch seems a prudent move to ensure an orderly transition of store fronts operating outside the law to legal status. Allowing the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch to operate a stand-alone network of its own outlets mirrors the successful approach of selling wine in B.C. through private and public retail outlets.

Setting the legal age to buy cannabis at 19 is wisely cautious given evidence that cannabis may have negative impacts on developing teenage brains. And restricting use to areas where smoking and vaping are legally permitted while banning it at beaches, parks and playgrounds protects those who don’t smoke from any potential nuisance. 

The province has empowered municipalities to choose whether they want marijuana stores in their communities — an inconvenience to users living in places that reject them perhaps, but a reasonable measure that gives authority to the level of government closest to citizens.

The government is also paying attention to driving under the influence of cannabis and training for police officers to recognize impairment. All to the good.

But what is the reason for restricting purchases and possession to 30 grams of cannabis, or roughly an ounce? A poll by High Times several years ago found the average joint contained a gram of pot. That’s just 30 smokes. We don’t restrict purchases of wine to a bottle, or sales of cigarettes to one pack. The measure seems needlessly paternalistic. Pity the poor retailer who must cut off a customer like a drunk at a bar.

Similarly, prohibiting citizens from growing more than four plants in their own homes is bizarre and unenforceable. And restricting placement of those plants so they can’t be seen by the public seems a throwback to the 1930s stigma on marijuana. Providing residents are not converting living quarters into grow-ops, giving landlords and strata corporations the power to tell people what herbs they can grow is draconian.

In short, the government’s retail cannabis plan is heading in the right direction but still needs some significant tweaking to shed the obloquy of the past.

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