In what should come as a shock to no one, turns out plenty of British Columbians had opinions on how Victoria should handle legal marijuana in the province.
With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s July* deadline for legalization looming, the NDP Government asked residents for input that will help shape the future of non-medical cannabis, which is being left up to the provinces and territories to regulate.
An ‘unprecedented number’ of British Columbians filled out the feedback form — over 48,000 in all — on subjects such as minimum age of use, personal possession limits, public consumption, and distribution and retail models. Another 800 people were polled through a random telephone survey.
The government also received over 130 written submissions from local governments, school districts, cannabis-industry representatives, advocacy groups and law enforcement.
The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) sent its own written submission outlining how it would prefer to see the framework for legalization rolled out, delineating between federal, provincial and local responsibilities.
“As BC’s largest resort municipality, with over 3 million visitors per year, the overall experience provided to our visitors is critical to our resort economy and Whistler’s economic contributions to the Province,” the letter, signed by Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden and addressed to Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, stated. “Determining if and how cannabis consumption businesses, retail, production and distribution are introduced in the resort community and how cannabis will be used is critical to maintaining the Whistler experience. Similarly, revenue-sharing mechanisms must be part of any provincial government regulation and taxation program to ensure that Whistler has the resources to continue to provide a world-class resort experience where recreational cannabis is legal for Whistler’s residents and visitors.”
In terms of minimum age of use, the RMOW’s position is to align with B.C.’s legal drinking age of 19.
“As a community with a higher than average proportion (of) young people, the RMOW is concerned about the risks of cannabis use on youth. However, misaligned age restrictions for alcohol and cannabis will simply cause youth to obtain cannabis from the illicit market,” the letter reads.
Similarly, local officials believe personal possession limits should be left to the federal or provincial government to decide and recommended they be identical to federal rules, as stricter limits “are likely to be difficult to enforce, may be confusing for people visiting from outside BC and are less likely to be as effective at mitigating harms of use as other tools.”
The RMOW supports using existing provincial regulations prohibiting tobacco smoking and vaping in certain areas to cannabis use. However, the municipality also would like to see “regulations that allow municipalities to designate areas where public consumption is permitted,” similar to existing rules in B.C.’s Liquor Control and Licensing Act.
“We note that while similarities exist between tobacco and cannabis use — cannabis is also an intoxicant and in the context of public consumption, rules for cannabis should not only align with rules for tobacco, but also with rules for alcohol,” the letter stated, before adding that “a more fulsome understanding” of the impacts of designated consumption areas such as cannabis lounges is required. The muni also supports leaving the administering and enforcement of such a licensing program up to the provincial government.
“Additionally, the Province should take the lead on identifying the potential impacts of these types of businesses and disseminating this information to local governments so they can make informed decisions on whether or not to allow these types of businesses in their communities,” the letter said.
Looking at a potential distribution model, the RMOW supports one that minimizes the illegal supply chain for marijuana; maintains municipal zoning control and business regulations over distribution facilities; and allows retailers and customers to select cannabis products from the suppliers they prefer by offering products from a variety of producers, including local or small-scale producers.
The RMOW also outlined its vision for a retail model that maintains municipal zoning and regulation over the shops; that keeps prices affordable so as to remain competitive with the illicit market; and ensures communities share in the economic benefits of marijuana retailing, including a portion of provincial cannabis sales tax.
“…(A) provincial retail monopoly or a hybrid system where the Province is a retailer, raises a particular concern that should be addressed in any legislation establishing the Province as a cannabis retailer. Generally, the Province is exempt from enactments that bind or affect it in the use of land. In the case of cannabis, this power may exempt provincial cannabis retailers from municipal zoning bylaws, allowing the Province to locate cannabis retail facilities in any municipality against the wishes of the community. Such overriding powers are unnecessary for the retail of recreational cannabis and municipalities should have the final say on if and where recreational cannabis facilities are located in their communities,” reads the letter.
The feedback collected through Victoria’s engagement process will now be reviewed and ultimately lead to a summary report that will be available publicly.
To view the RMOW’s full submission to the government, which includes further recommendations on drug-impaired driving and personal cannabis cultivation, visit https://engage.gov.bc.ca/app/uploads/sites/217/2017/11/Resort-Municipality-of-Whistler.pdf.
Pick up next week’s Pique for more on this issue.
An earlier version of this story stated that the Government of Canada is targeting April for legalization. Ottawa is actually aiming to roll out full-scale legalization on July 1.