B.C. lob­by­ing to pre­serve pro­duc­ers’ li­cences as hec­tic spring looms

Vancouver Sun - - OPINION - VAUGHN PALMER vpalmer@post­media.com

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.

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