The province has outlined how it will regulate marijuana when it becomes legal in 2018.
On Dec. 5, the B.C. government announced the minimum age of use as well as plans for distributing recreational cannabis.
The minimum age to possess, purchase and consume cannabis will be 19 years old, the same minimum age to consume alcohol or tobacco in B.C., as well as the age of majority. It was also announced the province will have a zero-tolerance model for underage possession of marijuana.
"What we've tried to do is strike a balance between what we've been told in terms of medical evidence as well as the desire to protect young people and eliminate the black market when it comes to cannabis," said Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.
"We know that the largest consumers of cannabis are young people in that 19-to-30-year-old range, and as a result if you set it too high, you're not going to get rid of the black market. Same as other provinces, tied the age to drinking age."
The wholesale distribution of non-medical marijuana will be handled by the BC Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB). The LDB was chosen because it already has experience in wholesaling and distribution of a government-regulated product. Though a model has been put in place, the LDB and province still have a number of practical issues to sort out, such as where the cannabis will be stored.
"Every other province is (distributing) through a provincial system. It allows us significant control, which the public, I believe correctly said, is important," said Farnworth. "The fact that it is two separate operations, I don't see being a huge challenge for the LDB to implement."
As for the part the public is most concerned about, the province will unveil its retail model in late January or early February of 2018. So far, the government plans to establish a mix between both public and private retail opportunities.
In its written feedback issued on Nov. 1, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) supported the minimum age of 19, and while it had no recommendations for a particular distribution model, local governement did suggest one that allowed retailers and customers to select from a wide variety of products. Farnworth said this current model would allow for both large-scale and small-scale licensed growers to distribute product.
The RMOW, the Squamish-Lilloet Regional District and the Village of Pemberton all expressed a desire for municipalities to be given authority to control zoning over where cannabis is cultivated, distributed and sold. Though no decisions have been made on that front, the province has been closely working with the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) as it plans the retail model.
"That's why we did the consultation process, that's we why did the working group, so that we can know exactly what it is that local government requires, because what works in Vancouver may not work in Prince George or Fort St. John or Campbell River. Many local governments have said they would like to have the ability to zone locations where a cannabis retail location may be located. We've now got the submission from the UBCM, and that's going to inform part of our thinking as to the final retail model we end up with and the powers that local government may well have," said Farnworth.
There is also no word on revenue sharing yet, although recently the federal government has said it would be willing to give a majority share to provinces on the condition the extra money goes toward municipalities to help deal with the impact of legalized marijuana.
All told, there's still plenty for the province to do ahead of next summer's deadline. Farnworth anticipates the province will be introducing or amending up to 18 pieces of legislation.
Every policy decision so far has been informed by the Joint Provincial-Local Government Committee on Cannabis Regulation, as well as survey response from citizens and stakeholders. From Sept. 25 to Nov. 1, a total of 48,591 British Columbians and 141 local governments shared feedback with the province. Results of those surveys can be found online at http://engage.gov.bc.ca/BCcannabisregulation/