"It's our goal to introduce legalized non-medical cannabis in a responsible, safe way," Minister of Public Health and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth told reporters.
Recreational marijuana won’t be sold in liquor stores, but will be available online through the liquor distribution branch once the drug becomes legal in July, the British Columbia government announced Monday.
“It’s our goal to introduce legalized non-medical cannabis in a responsible, safe way,” Minister of Public Health and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth told reporters.
Protecting youth, preventing drug-impaired driving and curbing organized crime are “top of the list” priorities for the province as legalization approaches, he added.
The province said those over the age of 19 will be able to buy pot at government-run stores and private retailers licensed to sell cannabis products. The Liquor Control and Licensing Branch will oversee the licensing process for private retailers.
B.C.’s Liquor Distribution Branch will operate the province-run stores and a website where products are available for purchase. Private retailers will not be permitted to sell cannabis products online.
The province’s decision to ban the sale of bud and booze in the same building was met with criticism from some, who say experienced liquor licence holders might still be the most qualified to sell marijuana.
“We still believe strongly that our members have a lot of experience retailing controlled substances in age-controlled environments,” said Jeff Guignard, executive director of B.C.’s Alliance of Beverage Licensees which represents private liquor stores, pubs and hotels.
“We’re eager to work with municipalities to make sure they have a really strong voice in how cannabis is retailed in their communities.”
In urban areas, recreational marijuana stores will also be banned from selling tobacco, lottery tickets, food, gas or clothing.
The government said it is still figuring out how marijuana will be sold in rural parts of the province where residents might have limited access to retailers.
The government has not set a cap on the number pot vendors it will allow in the province, but Farnworth said local governments will have “a significant say on the kind of retail operations that exist in their community.”
While, in theory, this could give municipalities the power to prevent the in-store sale of recreational cannabis altogether, the minister said all British Columbians will have access to a government-run retailer that won’t be subject to local restrictions.
B.C. is set to launch an early registration program in the spring for those who want to apply for a cannabis retail licence.
“We anticipate a number of existing businesses will apply…which may include liquor retailers, dispensary operators and others,” Farnworth said.
According to the minister, the first non-medical marijuana retailers will likely open their doors in “late summer.”
Travis Lane, a long-time pot cultivator, seller and director of BC Independent Cannabis Association praised the province for allowing private sellers into the marketplace and creating an early application system.
“I think this will help with a more seamless transfer,” he said. “Even though it’s going to be a bumpy road, getting those early applications in and having good candidates before the legalization date is really crucial.”
Lane, however, criticized the plan for what he called a few “very strange provisions,” including one that doesn’t allow dispensaries to grow and sell their own product.
“If I own a grow and I own a shop, I’m not allowed to sell my product to my own shop. I can only sell it to all my competition and that seems like a very odd provision to me,” he said.
Drug use and road safety
Farnworth said preventing drug-impaired driving remains one of the government’s top priorities and biggest challenges.
Those travelling with recreational marijuana will have to put it in a sealed package stored in a part of the vehicle where its occupants can’t access it. All occupants of the vehicle will be banned from using the substance.
To ensure these rules are enforced, Farnworth said the province is investing in additional training for law enforcement and will toughen provincial regulations.
Those caught high behind the wheel will be given a 90-day prohibition. There will also be a zero-tolerance policy for the presence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, for drivers in B.C.’s graduated licensing system.
“We must give police more tools to remove drug-impaired drivers from the road,” he said.
It’s unclear, however, what methods or technology law enforcement will use to apprehend drug–impaired drivers.
Possession limits and cultivation
The province said it’s following Ottawa’s recommendations to allow people to carry up to 30 grams of cannabis in a public place. But pot will be banned from any location where children are likely to be present, such as beaches, parks and playgrounds.
British Columbians will be allowed to own up to four personal use marijuana plants per household, with the exception of properties being used as daycare facilities.
Local officials will be able to impose further restrictions on pot consumption and cultivation, as will landlords and strata councils, based largely on the same rules that currently apply to tobacco use.
These details come as the provinces scramble to lay the legal and financial groundwork for non-medical marijuana before the federal government legalizes recreational use of the drug in July.
With just five months left until legalization, however, critics across the aisle are slamming the NDP government for the number of unanswered questions in its policy.
“As usual, the BC NDP have dithered and delayed in making another actual decision,” Liberal critic Mike Morris said in a statement Monday.
“What are the rules for rural B.C.? The government will get back to you. What role will local government have in approving retail locations? Stay tuned, the NDP just isn’t quite sure.”
While B.C. hopes to have a sound framework in place by July, Farnworth said policy surrounding marijuana will likely be subject to change for years after, based on further consultation with the public and other stakeholders as well as the details of the federal law.
“There are still many more decisions to be made and we have much more work left to do,” he said. “Our government will be dealing with this significant change in policy for years to come.”
By Dario Balca –ctv news
Photo Credit – Canadian Press – Sean Kilpatrick