Have your say on how marijuana should be regulated in B.C.

Vancouver still has 65 pot shops flouting city’s business licence scheme

12th and Cambie

So maybe you heard — Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth wants you to share your views on how the provincial government should regulate distribution and retail sales of what they call “non-medical cannabis.”

In other words, recreational marijuana — a description of the popular plant I always find funny, since recreation to most people means going for a bike ride, maybe a canoe trip or a hike. But B.C., as you’ve probably smelled on your bike ride, canoe trip or hike, is not full of most people.

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Proof: Ride your bike through the North Grandview Highway/Commercial Drive intersection around 4:20-ish.

I digress…

With the feds set to legalize marijuana in Canada next July, Farnworth told us reporter types Monday that he wants residents to go online and tell him by Nov. 1 what new rules should be implemented. Some of you can expect phone calls for a survey.

The minister acknowledged it’s a tight timeline and that the government was playing “catch up” on getting new rules in place; he argued that crazy May 9 election and sorting out which party was in charge had something to do with the delay.

Farnworth, who announced the public consultation exercise in a ballroom at Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, said he wants recommendations on new rules ready to go for the February session of the B.C. legislature.

The government expects to hear from anybody and everybody with an opinion on this country’s most debated plant, including civic politicians, cops, farmers, First Nations, health experts and a cross-section of what he called “a well-established” cannabis industry in B.C.

He suggested that regulations could vary by municipality, although the age of who can legally buy marijuana from a legal outlet after July 2018 will be consistent across the province. The feds have said 18 is a good age but Farnworth pointed out the province could increase that to 19 to fall in line with liquor laws.

Will marijuana be sold in liquor stores? Corner stores? London Drugs?

All open questions.

As for what a retail model could look like, Farnworth mentioned Vancouver’s current scheme of regulating pot shops. Dispensaries have to meet certain criteria before receiving a business licence, which costs $30,000 per year. That criteria includes a pot shop being 300 metres from a school, owners signing a “good neighbour agreement,” criminal record checks for employees and a security plan.

“Some people are happy with that, others are not necessarily happy with that,” Farnworth said. “Prince George may have a different approach. Port Coquitlam may have a different approach. What I’m hearing — and what we need to hear — is, ‘How do they see retail, for example, working in their communities?’”

So, you might be wondering as you go for a stroll around your neighbourhood and walk past a pot shop or two, what does Farnworth anticipate happening to all the dispensaries in Vancouver once new provincial and federal rules become law?

I asked him.

“Some communities may say, ‘Yes, we want dispensaries.’ Others may say, ‘We don’t want dispensaries.’ They key question though, from my perspective, is that whatever retail model we have in place is a legal model, using legal product and that we get the black market out of it.”

But, I followed up:  “How do you get the black market out of it when the police chief of Vancouver has clearly said that dispensaries are not a priority for him?”

First, he replied, the feds have to put a framework in place that is the law of the land and clearly understood by the provincial government, which will set its own laws for compliance.

Farnworth: “If you’re trying to subvert it, get around it, then you’re going to have problems. The police, of course, will deal with the law of the land, federally, provincially and at the local level.”

Standing to Farnworth’s left at the newser was Vision Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang, who was later challenged by reporters in a scrum to answer why so many Vancouver pot shops were still open under current laws that prohibit them. As of Sept. 12, a total of 65 pot shops were still flouting the city’s business licence regulations.

“Under the previous [B.C. Liberal] government, we tried to close them, we did everything we could under our land use powers and guess what: They didn’t make time to hear the case,” Jang said. “When we have a proper enforcement system for all three levels of government, it’s fine.”

More than two years after city council adopted new rules to reduce the number of dispensaries, only 12 have been given licences — seven retail and five “compassion clubs.” More than 2,000 tickets have been issued and 53 injunctions have been filed in court. A total of 42 stores have either closed or are no longer selling marijuana.

“This is why legalization and this new scheme can’t come fast enough for me,” Jang continued. “I don’t know what the future holds — I really don’t know — and I think that’s the exciting thing about this. We have an opportunity now to make cannabis mainstream. Let’s make sure it works for everybody.”

Regardless of what laws are passed, Farnworth dismissed any suggestion the government’s aim in all of this was to create a new revenue stream.

“This is about legalization and the best way to do it. It’s not about saying, ‘Oh, here’s a money grab in which we can get all kinds of revenue in and not have to worry about the consequences.’ It’s either done right, or it’s done wrong. The revenue issue is part of it, but that should not be the first and foremost consideration.”

mhowell@vancourier.com

@Howellings

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