BUSY SCHEDULE BUDDING OVER POT LEGISLATION
B.C. lobbying to preserve producers’ licences as hectic spring looms
While the New Democrats prepare to do their share on marijuana legalization, they are also lobbying Ottawa to preserve the province’s position as one of the leading producers of what has been called B.C.’s largest cash crop.
“The reality is this,” said solicitor general Mike Farnworth, lead minister on the file for B.C. “We have had in this province an industry that’s been in place for a very long time. Some of it underpins the economy, for example, no surprise, in the Kootenays, certain parts of Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and the coast.”
B.C. producers hold about a quarter of the five dozen or so federally issued licences for production of medical marijuana. The B.C. New Democrats want that quota preserved and expanded once Canada moves to recreational production.
“Don’t just leave it to a large-scale commercial operator that effectively shuts out small-scale production in B.C.,” Farnworth urged during a recent interview with me on Shaw TV’s Voice of B.C.
“You would have to have clear guidelines that there’s no involvement in organized crime or criminal activity. But those small-scale producers — that production already exists. And if we don’t find a way to bring it in, it is going to continue to exist and I think that’s a real problem.”
Whereas if all goes well, one can envision regional pot producers having brandname access to the province’s retail outlets, not unlike craft breweries and wineries today.
Speaking of retail outlets, the New Democrats have “not landed on a model” for those amid continuing consultations with local government.
He believes government liquor stores and established private outlets are well qualified to keep the product out of the hands of children and the business out of the hands of organized crime.
B.C. will also have to consider co-location, where stores sell both liquor and pot unlike the segregated model being adopted in Ontario
“We have to get this done by July of next year,” said the minister. “It is a very tight time frame. To rule out colocation, I don’t think we can do that at this point.”
The New Democrats are still wrestling with what to do about existing dispensaries in some urban centres like Vancouver and Victoria and the lack of any outlets in rural B.C.
“I’ve been really clear that what may work as a retail model in Vancouver may not work in Port Coquitlam or Prince George or Fort St. John or Campbell River,” said Farnworth.
“The other issue that may come up is in small, rural communities there may be an opportunity for mail order.”
As for municipalities like Richmond that want no part of marijuana sales, the province might go the established route on casino licensing and cut them out of revenue sharing as well.
“That is a possibility,” said Farnworth.
“Revenue sharing is also one of the issues that the province is currently engaged in with the federal government. So there’s a lot of unanswered questions around that. But the bottom line is this: local communities are going to have a big say.”
On impaired driving, said Farnworth, police have to be trained to administer the proper test consistently. Plus there’s the whole issue of workplace safety with the trucking and construction industries particularly alarmed about the prospect of doped workers.
Then come landlord and tenancy issues.
“I personally think, as a landlord, you have the right to say I don’t want plants grown or that my unit is a non-smoking unit,” said Farnworth.
“If you talk to many in the general public, after their kids’ safety and crime issues, the issue is second-hand smoke,” he added, summarizing feedback from almost 50,000 submissions that came in through the government’s online consultations.
“You live in apartment 303; I live in apartment 203. I have a medical prescription for medical cannabis and you like clean air. And I’m out on my patio. It’s a recipe for conflict. Stratas are going to have to deal with that issue.”
Ottawa is allowing the personal cultivation of up to four plants, but as Farnworth noted, in a province with so many green-thumb pot producers, the result could be “really big marijuana plants.”
All in, Farnworth estimates at least a dozen provincial laws — from health care to agriculture to youth justice to police and residential tenancy — will need to be redrafted, amended or tweaked to complete the provincial side of Ottawa’s drive for legalization.
“It has to be done because there’s a federal mandate,” said Farnworth, who as NDP house leader chairs the cabinet committee on legislation where all the necessary bills will have to be vetted before being enacted in the house.
“The legislation is going to be one daunting task because, whether it’s amended or written, that takes up a lot of time and resources in terms of legislative drafting.
“Usually this time of the year the legislative drafters are working on legislation for the spring. Because of the way the election went last spring and the delay and the lateness in the session, getting legislation for this session puts additional pressure on getting things ready for the spring of 2018.”
Hence the government house leader’s caution to his own cabinet colleagues not to get their hopes up regarding the NDP’s legislative priorities for the spring. Many of those may get crowded out until fall by an agenda dictated largely from Ottawa.
The legislation is going to be one daunting task ... whether it’s amended or written, that takes up a lot of time and resources in terms of ... drafting.
B.C. solicitor general Mike Farnworth is hoping Ottawa will allow the province’s small-scale marijuana producers to continue operating.