(File photo)

ELECTION 2017: No firm stance on marijuana from the three B.C. parties

Federal legislation leaves distribution and enforcement up to provinces

Third in a series of Black Press B.C. election coverage leading up to May 9

None of B.C. main political parties have unveiled firm plans for how marijuana will be regulated despite Ottawa proposing legalization by Canada Day 2018.

The BC Liberals have long said that their main focus is keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors.

“The federal government has set 18 as the bottom line,” Liberal leader Christy Clark said during the News1130 radio debate. “You can’t get liquor till you’re 19, for heaven’s sake let’s at least put it at 19.”

Clark has spoken out against selling pot in liquor stores.

“Should it be co-located to liquor stores? I don’t think so,” said Clark. “No one does that in the United States and you don’t want these two intoxicants sitting beside each other on the shelf.”

The BC Liberal leader drew criticism from BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver for not being better prepared.

“We’ve thought about this for years while the premier has stood by and done nothing,” he said.

Clark said that the BC Liberals will consult experts before deciding how it will be distributed.

The proposed federal law leaves impaired driving enforcement and distribution up to the provinces. A legalization task force released a report in December that recommended storefront distribution as an option, but warned against selling in liquor stores.

READ: Battle over future of legal marijuana in B.C. just starting

In SFU professor Robert Gordon’s view, marijuana will likely be sold in separate stores.

“I think marijuana stores are the likely route,” said Gordon. “They’re aware of the need to regulate the access to the stuff on the part of adolescents and having a good taxation payment system in place.”

Gordon doesn’t see an issue in continuing current dispensaries, which currently operate illegally despite cities like Vancouver, Victoria and Port Alberni choosing to licence them.

“It’s perfectly doable and safely so,” said Gordon. “We’re got our neighbours to the south as a model.”

In the U.S., recreational marijuana is legal in Alaska, Washington State, California, Oregon, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada.

READ: Legalizing pot won’t help at U.S. border, says immigration lawyer

In 2016, Horgan sent NDP MLAs Mike Farnworth and Carole James south of the border to speak with Washington State and Oregon officials on how different distribution channels were performing.

“I’ve talked to pharmacies, I’ve talked to distributors of other drugs in the community, I’ve talked to dispensaries and I’ve also talked to the liquor distribution folks to see what is the best way to proceed,” Horgan said. “I would suggest it’s probably going to be a mix.”

Although the proposed federal legislation allows for up to four metre-high plants at home, Gordon sees most marijuana production switching to larger-scale production.

“We’ll see that continue to a certain point or move openly into greenhouses,” he said, pointing to post-secondary institutions such as Kwantlen Polytechnic University, which already has a course on medicinal growing. “It’s not going to be fields of waving cannabis.”

Weaver is concerned that Ottawa’s proposed bill will concentrate the profit from legalization with large corporations.

“We view the craft cannabis industry in a manner that’s identical to the craft beer industry,” said Weaver.

SFU professor Neil Boyd believes that Clark’s approach, rather than selling in liquor stores, will be the one taken regardless of who ends up in power on May 9.

“I think the NDP has suggested that the liquor store approach is what they would follow,” said Boyd. “It’s a bit surprising because in every other jurisdiction we have seen a store distinct from a liquor store.”

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katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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