Pubdate: Thu, 13 Apr 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Jonathan Page
Page: 33


Cannabis: Legalization offers an opportunity to British Columbia

Cannabis is one of the province's biggest cash crops, consumed by an
estimated one in seven British Columbians, and a quasi-legal substance
that is the subject of innumerable city-council meetings, media
stories and police reports. It is hard to think of something more
intertwined with so many current issues. So why has a cone of silence
enveloped provincial politicians over cannabis legalization?

Premier Christy Clark has repeatedly deferred to federal jurisdiction
over drug laws. "I am going to leave the marijuana debate to the
federal government" she said in 2012, and hasn't strayed from that

John Horgan's NDP, a party one assumes has more cannabis-friendly
supporters than the BC Liberals, has been equally silent. Two NDP MLAs
visited Washington and Oregon in April, 2016 to learn about their
experience with legalization. There was little information since then.

After the news in late March that the federal Liberals would introduce
legislation in April, B.C. Solicitor-General Mike Morris said his
government has a cross-ministry working group that is conducting
research but would not be discussing details until after federal
legislation is released.

The legislation is to be tabled Thursday. With the provincial election
four weeks away, cannabis needs to be on the agenda.

There is a lot at stake for British Columbia as Canada becomes the
first G20 country to legalize non-medical cannabis use. The
approaching legislation is widely expected to give provinces the job
of determining how to regulate cannabis sales and use. Ontario's
Premier has mused about using liquor stores for distribution.
Alberta's Justice Minister spoke openly about her three-day trip to
Denver to hear about Colorado's experience with legalization. Manitoba
recently introduced their own legislation regarding public consumption
of cannabis.

British Columbia languishes in a policy vacuum with no government or
opposition politician willing to say a word.

Cannabis is a big part of the B.C. economy. Although it is difficult
to accurately gauge job and revenue numbers for a largely illicit
industry, by some accounts the economic impact of cannabis is bigger
than agriculture or forestry. Scratch the surface of small towns such
as Duncan, Powell River and Nelson, and you find cannabis as a pillar
of the economy. There are also the B.C.-based medical-cannabis
producers licensed by Health Canada contributing jobs and taxes to
their communities.

Once considered the national leader for cannabis growing, and "B.C.
Bud" renowned for its potency and quality, British Columbia has seen
an erosion of this position under the federal Access to Cannabis for
Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR). Companies based in B.C. have
only nine of the 41 licenses for legal medical-cannabis production,
and probably less than 15 per cent of the production capacity. Ontario
has 24 LPs and the industry seems to be gravitating to the greenhouse
belt of Southwestern Ontario.

Polls have consistently shown support for cannabis legalization in
British Columbia is among the highest in the country. A Deloitte
report from 2016 showed 42 per cent of B.C. adults support
legalization. An NRG poll from February 2017 found B.C. support of 57
per cent. The quixotic attempt by Sensible BC to trigger a referendum
on cannabis legalization collected more than 200,000 signatures in

There are good reasons for B.C. to champion the cannabis industry and
push for an inclusive model of regulated cannabis production. This is
an opportunity to both support rural economic development and to clean
up an industry that has frayed nerves in many communities. Homeowners
and police prefer a licensed grower next door rather than a sketchy
grow-op behind a "Beware of Dog" sign.

And a dispensary operating under provincial regulations should not
elicit anxiety by nearby merchants. Anne McLellan, the chair of the
federal government's Legalization Task Force, has indicated her
preference for a mix of producers including artisanal or "craft" growers.

This accurately matches the current configuration of the smaller
B.C.-based LPs and the province's many non-licensed growers. The Task
Force also suggested outdoor growing to reduce electricity
consumption, which may favour the mild B.C. climate.

- ----------------------------------------------------------------

Jonathan Page is a professor of botany at the University of British 
Columbia and co-founder of Anandia Labs.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt