What BC premier-designate John Horgan’s new Chief of Staff might mean for BC dispensaries

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Courtesy of Lift Magazine

BC Bud

The NDP announced Tuesday that former City of Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs has now become NDP premier-designate John Horgan’s chief of staff. Horgan become the premier designate when British Columbia’s minority Liberal government lost a non-confidence vote last Thursday, paving the way for the New Democrats to form government.

As a Vancouver City Councillor, Meggs was one of seven councillors who supported the city’s dispensary regulations, the Medical Marijuana Related Use licensing program (MMRU), in June 2015. His comments during this debate could give some insight into the NDP’s approach to managing issues like distribution and retail sales, which the Cannabis Act proposes to allow provinces to manage.

Meggs’ reason for supporting these regulations, though, was not strictly in support of dispensaries, but instead in support of the city’s efforts to impose order on the proliferation of an unregulated industry. While Meggs said he was moved by stories of the effectiveness of medical cannabis, at the time he admonished dispensary owners as being ‘tone deaf’ and not hearing the concerns of the city, business owners, and community members.

“We’re here today to deal with what the city can deal with, not with anything else. And so while I was very touched by the stories, and many of them were heartbreaking, that’s not why I support this motion. I support it because it’s necessary for our communities, for kids in our city, and for our business neighbourhoods too, to make these changes.

“And I just want to say to the dispensary operators that I though many of you were completely tone deaf to what was the fundamental issue here in front of this council in terms of neighbourhood protection and so on.

“There has not been a consistent record of good neighbourly behaviour by the dispensaries in this city, and that’s what drove us to make these steps that are in front of us now as we saw an exponential growth in the number of dispensaries—which were clearly heading their sales towards children, which were clearly undermining the viability of business districts. And we heard from people who are neighbours who were experiencing second-hand smoke, we heard from BIA’s that are worried about the viability of their business districts and the clustering of some of these places, and we heard from people of course who were concerned about children and the impacts elsewhere. And I say to the people who are running dispensaries: you better listen to those statements, as carefully as you listened to the submissions of the people who have health problems.

“Because it’s to protect those neighbourhoods and those communities, those business districts, that we’re taking the steps we are today. And I’m very unhappy personally—and we didn’t hear very much about the crime and safety part—that we’ve been driven to this because, as Councillor Carr has referenced in the context of prohibition, we do see the presence of organized crime in sectors that are suppressed, without the proper regulation.”

He also took the opportunity to criticize then Health Minister Rona Ambrose in her attempts to dissuade Vancouver from passing the dispensary regulations, calling her ‘completely out of touch’.

“I just want to say in response to that, to Minister Ambrose: wake-up!,” said Meggs. “You are completely out of touch with the realities on the ground. The policies that you’re advocating are backward and destructive and they’ve driven us to take the steps that are necessary here today.”

You can hear all of Meggs comments here starting at 15:23.

In 2015, he called the drug trade “literally the elephant in the room when it comes to the BC economy” and said that the “power to shut down the trade—along with the political prominence to challenge national policy—lies in Victoria.”

In September of 2016, Meggs wrote “rules like those adopted in Vancouver are proving effective to curb the runaway proliferation of dispensaries, some of which were blighting local neighbourhood retail districts.”

BC Politics

What this means for the future of BC’s cannabis industry and the numerous dispensaries across the province is still unclear, but this mirrors some of the messaging from the BC NDP and the BC Greens, who have created a coalition with the BC NDP for a collective 44 seats in the legislature, while the Liberals have 43.

While the BC government has generally ignored the cannabis issue, even in the run up to May’s provincial election, Horgan and the BC NDP were the only party who had any kind of substantial policy around cannabis, even sending MP’s Carol James and Mike Farnworth on a fact-finding mission to Washington and Oregon to learn about their legal cannabis regimes.

report the two MLA’s produced looked at issues like personal production limits, retail sales options, law enforcement and public health concerns, and revenue and taxation structures and how they relate to the existing black market.

Earlier this year, Horgan said he’s met with the B.C. Government Service Employees Union about over-the-counter retail cannabis sales. The union has 4,000 members at government-run liquor stores and provincial liquor distribution outlets. There are 198 government liquor stores and about 670 private stores in B.C.

He says he has also met with operators of private beer and wine stores, pharmacies, marijuana dispensaries and craft beer brewers.

“We need to find a way, a (sales and distribution) model that, I think, is a hybrid of all those things,” Horgan said.

Clark criticized him during one of the election debates for the suggestion of selling cannabis in liquor stores, saying “no one in North America is doing that.”

The Cannabis Act, which is currently making it’s way through the House of Commons, proposes to give control of things like distribution, retail sales, and legal age limits to the provinces.

Horgan, for his part, has attacked Clark for not moving quickly on the issue in 2016.

“Christy Clark’s government is sitting back and waiting for the federal government on this issue. We can see the result when we look at the proliferation of dispensaries in communities around the province. British Columbia needs to be working with communities and with the federal government. These decisions are being made right now, and they’re being made without us” said Horgan.

“British Columbians deserve to have a say in how marijuana is legalized. They want to make sure we do this right, so that the safety and health of young people and of our communities come first. We have neighbours who started down this road some years ago, and we can learn from them.”

“We need to do all we can to protect communities from the kind of haphazard implementation they’re seeing today. Failing to learn all we can from our neighbours would be an opportunity missed.”

BC Greens

The BC Greens’ Leader Andrew Weaver has said the party favours a distribution model that allows for BC’s ‘craft cannabis’ industry to have a place, while also saying he sees a place for pharmacy sales of medical cannabis and liquor-store sales for non-medical cannabis.

Sensible BC

Sensible BC gave both the BC NDP and BC Greens a C+ on their cannabis policy in the run up to the May election that saw the Liberals unseated from 16 years in power.

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