Trevor Ritchie | Contributor
As reported in the October 3 edition of The Globe and Mail, BC Premier John Horgan has stated that private dispensaries could play a role in distribution of marijuana once it becomes legal on July 1, 2018. British Columbia, along with the other nine provinces and three territories, have been faced with the challenge of determining what regulations would be put in place regarding the distribution and regulation of marijuana in their provinces because of incoming federal legislation to legalize the sale of marijuana.
The proliferation of black market marijuana led the federal government to contemplate legalization of marijuana, but it is unclear if legalization will lead to a reduction in the size of the unregulated market, and whether doing so will help reduce some of the social ills associated with the unregulated sale of marijuana in the community.
While other provinces, such as Ontario, have put forward a plan to have the sale of marijuana be regulated by crown corporations, British Columbia already has an abundance of private dispensaries of medical marijuana throughout the province, and Premier Horgan has indicated that these small businesses could have a role to play in the new regulatory structure being considered by the province.
While the provincial government has said that all options are on the table for determining the distribution process, the Premier’s comments indicate a willingness to allow the current marijuana dispensaries to become part of the legal process, either alongside or in place of government owned dispensaries. In places where there are already many dispensaries, such as the Lower Mainland and Greater Victoria area, this will not have as large a detrimental effect on the community, as these locations already exist and the local communities have already begun adjusting to the dispensaries in their communities. Areas such as Prince George, which only has a single marijuana dispensary, are likely to have many new dispensaries establish themselves, and this will present an issue for the local government and police forces to address. How the municipal government works in partnership with the province to ensure community concerns are addressed will be an important part of the consultation process.
The province is currently engaged in a consultation process to determine the best means of distributing marijuana. The consultation process will also be looking at the appropriate minimum age for sales, and how to amend the laws to address impaired driving due to marijuana use.
One of the major concerns to be considered by the government is how to ensure an adequate supply of marijuana, and from there how to ensure that the supply is tracked through the growing and distribution process. This is in part to ensure recalls of potentially hazardous products, and to try and ensure that underage users are prevented from buying from the legal market. Currently, marijuana distributors in the province operate in a legal grey area, and receive their supply through illegal sources. The government has considered, as part of the legalization process, allowing some of these illicit producers to become part of the legal marijuana marketplace.
While it is still early in the process, the government is hoping to move quickly to create a legal framework for legalization as soon as possible, to prepare police organizations and municipalities for the changes in law and society that will occur. Many municipalities and police forces have asked the federal government to push back the legalization date from July 1, 2018, but this seems unlikely and the provincial government is operating under the assumption that the legalization date will not be changed.
Interested citizens are encouraged to participate in the online consultation process, which can be found on the BC government website.