Pubdate: Wed, 19 Apr 2017
Source: Nelson Star (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Black Press
Author: Will Johnson


Cannabis is one step closer to being legal.

According to the Cannabis Act introduced by the federal government
last Thursday, legalization of the controversial plant will come into
effect July 2018 - and now it's up to the provinces and territories to
sort out distribution and regulation.

The act sets a personal possession limit of 30 grams of legal dried
cannabis, gives the province the power to set age limits, and calls
for the creation of a carefully controlled supply chain complete with
consistent rules and routine inspections.

There are multiple details still set to be ironed out, and the
legislation's finer details have yet to be debated, but essentially
the law will allow cannabis consumption for both medical and
recreational use while prohibiting its use by those under the age of

So now the ball's in B.C.'s court, and Nelson will have to communicate
with the provincial government as they work to establish a
distribution system for reliably getting cannabis to customers while
keeping it out of the hands of youngsters.

'We'll need some help financially'

As far as Nelson Mayor Deb Kozak is concerned, this move is long
overdue. With six dispensaries currently operating downtown, her
council has been faced with a political conundrum: how do you regulate
an illegal industry, especially if you don't have the cash to do so?

"This issue has dominated local agendas for the last two and a half
years, and that's frustrating. It will be a relief when the
regulations are set and we can move back to other priorities," Kozak
told the Star.

"But what happens on the ground here in the community, that will be
the purview of local government and if the province is going to pile
on regulations, then we'll need some help financially to make that

Their current bylaw, which requires each dispensary to pay a $5,000
business license fee, will still be in place until the provincial
regulations come into effect - and that might take a while.

"I think the community is feeling like we should 'stay calm and carry
on', and people are moving forward in different ways."

And will the city consider, as one resident suggested at a recent
council meeting, growing its own cannabis?

"I think we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. That's something
for the Nelson community to consider, and I would love to hear what
the community thinks about that."

'We all knew this was coming'

The Cannabis Act announcement thrusts pot into the provincial
spotlight, making it one of the most prominent election issues, but
Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall feels the issue will take a back
seat to issues such as health care and education.

"This isn't a surprise. We all knew this was coming," she

"The province is supposed to be responsible for the bulk of
regulation, just like with alcohol and tobacco, so in anticipation we
in the NDP party started looking out how they've rolled out
legalization in places such as Colorado and Washington to see what
their challenges are, their best practices."

She was interested to see edibles are one point of contention, and
said there are a number of otherfacets to the legalization process
that haven't yet been explored.

"It's early days. We want to do our due diligence and make sure our
decisions are fact-based and fair.We'll do our research, and if we
form government we won't be creating laws without (cannabis industry
professionals) at the table."

A baby step in the right direction

If Kozak had her way, the City of Nelson wouldn't be involved in
regulating the cannabis industry at all - and that's what the Nelson
Cannabis Compassion Club's Phil McMillan wants too.

"I have this saying I live by, which is, 'If you want the government
to do something right then pray they don't do anything at all,'" he

"This new Cannabis Act is definitely a step in the right direction,
but that step is a baby step. There's still so much stigma around this
plant, and I keep asking people, 'Can you name any other product
that's so heavily regulated but has never killed a single person?'
It's silly."

He noted that according to the penalties set out by the act, a
Canadian citizen could be imprisoned for 14 years because they sold
cannabis to someone underage - a punishment he feels is

"You're facing more time for selling a 17-year-old a joint than
someone who forces a five-year-old to have sex with an animal. How is
that proportionate? There's very little logic and sense to this
act,and you can see it's very political."

He figures the federal government has passed the buck on to the
provincial, territorial and municipal governments.

"This way they deliver on their promise without doing any work. The
worry is we're going to have a patchwork system across the country,
with each government creating a different system based on their
particular politics."

Business community considers inclusion

Some of the currently existing pot dispensaries in Nelson have
approached the Chamber of Commerce to join their ranks, but so far
they've been turned away. According to executive director Tom Thomson,
that will probably change soon.

"Certainly this is a positive move, because we don't like to see a lot
of people incarcerated and charged with something that's much more
socially acceptable than it used to be," he said.

"But there are many people who feel that people in Nelson tend to
flaunt it, and take advantage of the fact there's not much
enforcement, and there are concerns about people sitting in the heart
of downtown and firing up a joint."

He said, "A lot can happen between now and July 2018, but it does seem
like the feds are moving in the right direction."

And the biggest change will be making room for not just medical users,
but those who want to consume it recreationally as well.

"Medical marijuana is one thing, but for recreational use provisions
are going to be made for people who are, say, driving under the
influence. There are definitely going to need to be tweaks and changes
moving forward."

And he hopes this won't mean an influx of irresponsible

"Whether it's cigarette use or marijuana use or alcohol use, there's a
time and place for it - and downtown Nelson is not necessarily the
best location."

'We're your neighbours, we're good people'

Kozak has mixed feelings about how the dispensary situation has played
out, and she's looking forward to some more clarity.

"When the feds said 'legalize', that turned a lot of wheels locally.
We took a different approach here and a lot of that was based on what
the community wanted, but we'll see if that was the right approach,"
she said.

"I wish it would've played out quicker at the federal level, but I
understand these things take time."

And though McMillan is celebrating some aspects of the new act, he
doesn't like that it brings with it continued stigma against people
who consume marijuana.

"You hear 'we've got to protect the kids from the nasty pot people'
but we're your neighbours, we're good people, and most people who
smoke cannabis that's the only law they break," he said.

"We live with you guys. We're not evil and you don't need to protect
your children from us."
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