Legalizing Marijuana: BC’s Cautious Approach to Cannabis

EKB first wrote about Canada’s planned legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes in April 2017. The federal government introduced the Cannabis Act on April 13, 2017, which is scheduled come into force on July 1, 2018. Marijuana use has impacts on employers, who are required to accommodate medical marijuana use and who may have concerns about the effects of the legalized use of recreational marijuana in the workplace.

The federal government is leaving it to the provinces to regulate the distribution and sale of recreational marijuana starting on July 1, 2018, which sent the provinces scrambling to each come up with a plan and left them to question whether there was enough time to do so prior to the Cannabis Act coming into force.

Ontario is the first (and, so far, the only) province to announce its plan, which it did on September 8, 2017. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (the “LCBO”) will oversee sales through online ordering and standalone stores. Ultimately, Ontario plans to have 150 such stores by 2020, although only 40 are slated to open by July 1, 2018. The Ontario government has proposed a minimum age of 19 to use, purchase and possess marijuana, and it plans to prohibit the use of recreational pot in public places, cars and workplaces. Marijuana will only be legally consumed in private residences.

The Ontario plan has received a fair amount of criticism. In its quest to prevent the sale of illegal cannabis, the Ontario government has announced that it will seek to shut down illegal marijuana stores rather than regulating them and allowing them to continue selling through those channels. With only a limited number of stores set to open by the time the Cannabis Act comes into force, some critics have questioned how the government can adequately supply legal cannabis to meet the demands of its residents in remote areas.  If Ontario residents don’t have access to legal bud, the concern is that they will turn to illegal sources to satisfy demand.

Ontario has yet to set a price for marijuana, although it is considering pricing it at $10 per gram. This is also drawing severe criticism since it is believed that the average price of weed on the black market is around $8.60 per gram. This proposed pricing is seen by cannabis advocates such as Jodie Emery as a blatant attempt by the government to profit off of a drug that it had fought against legalizing in the first place.

So what about BC? While Premier Horgan has not committed to any one particular model, in a radio interview on September 11, 2017, with Jon McComb on CKNW, he said that BC will be ready for the July 1, 2018, roll-out. While he did not rule out the Ontario model as a possible option, Premier Horgan also hinted that he is not opposed to the idea of allowing at least some of the current dispensaries to remain in the market. As for pricing, he recognized that setting the price too high will simply result in the continuation of illegal sales. With respect to growing marijuana, Premier Horgan recognized that with people already growing marijuana at home, the government needs to be “realistic about how we’re going to manage that”.

Overall, it seems that Premier Horgan is striving for a practical approach to regulating marijuana distribution and sales in BC. To assist with the process, BC’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth announced on September 25, 2017, that the government is embarking on a consultation process that will involve widespread public engagement. Some of the issues that will be canvassed include the appropriate legal age for cannabis use, the maximum amount of cannabis that can be possessed, and the thresholds for drug-impaired driving. The government has emphasized that it recognizes that no single model will work when it comes to retail models across the province. Mr. Farnworth was quoted as saying, “I don’t see any reason why we have to have a one-size fits all approach on British Columbia.”

Legalization is on the horizon and the provincial government’s stated objective is to get it right when it comes to regulating the recreational use of marijuana in BC. We’re waiting and watching to see what happens when the plan is unveiled.