Pubdate: Mon, 08 May 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Mike Hager
Page: S1


The leaders of British Columbia's three main political parties have
all spent time on the campaign trail praising its craft-beer industry,
but none has said much about one of the other most popular intoxicants
widely produced throughout the province: cannabis.

Ottawa is expected to legalize the drug as early as July 1, 2018,
which means provinces and territories must get to work solving
contentious policy issues of regulating the wholesale distribution and
retailing of cannabis.

Critics worry B.C. could fall behind other regions of Canada and lose
its advantage as a province whose illegal-cannabis industry has long
put millions of dollars into the pockets of thousands of underground
growers and sellers.

BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver has been the most vocal in his
support for bringing those in the province's underground cannabis
trade under the regulatory umbrella. He has said his party supports
marketing opportunities for small-scale "craft" growers and wants
these producers to be able to sell to customers through B.C.'s
provincial liquor agency.

Christy Clark said, if re-elected, her Liberal party would convene a
group of experts to recommend how best to tackle a host of issues,
with the core priorities of keeping the drug out of the hands of
minors and profits out of the hands of organized criminals.

Dr. Jonathan Page, founder of B.C.-based Anandia Labs, which tests
Canada's medical cannabis supply for contaminants, said these are
already the two main stated goals of the federal legalization bill
making its way through Parliament, so provinces have the opportunity
to focus on other issues surrounding the drug.

"[B.C.'s politicians] are so cautious about this issue with the
electorate that none of them wanted to get out there and say 'this is
an opportunity for this province,' " Dr. Page said. "It's an
opportunity missed for everybody, and it also speaks to the fact that
B.C. is poised to lose this industry to other provinces.

"New Brunswick is starved for jobs, their rural economy is suffering
and they're putting government dollars into the industry already.
Ontario has most of the licensed producers in the medical system and
their premier and their provincial government seem to be quite active
in considering policy, and here we are - the supposed nexus of
cannabis, whether it's legal or otherwise - and we're still scratching
our heads about where it should go."

NDP leader John Horgan pointed to sending two MLAs on a fact-finding
mission to Oregon and Washington last year as proof his party is
already studying how to keep the public safe once the drug is
legalized, as well as maximize tax revenue while minimizing the black

"We've talked to people in other jurisdictions, we've learned from
their mistakes, and we're going to make sure we do the best we can to
have a seamless transition," Mr. Horgan said at an editorial-board
meeting in The Globe and Mail's B.C. bureau last week.

He had previously said he favoured selling recreational cannabis
through the province's liquor stores, but said his party is open to
what experts say on the distribution issue.

Neil Boyd, head of Simon Fraser University's criminology school and a
scholar of prohibition, said this might be the toughest issue for
provinces to solve.

The federal task force report on the government's legalization of
cannabis recommended against selling the drug in liquor stores, noting
concerns that mixing alcohol and marijuana leads to higher levels of
intoxication. Before the task force issued its report last December,
politicians in British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario floated the idea
of selling cannabis at such government-run outlets.

Pharmacies or private shops, such as the dispensaries currently
illegal under federal drug laws, are also possible venues for the
eventual distribution of cannabis, Prof. Boyd said.

Many of Alberta's mayors appear hostile to the retail sale of pot,
Prof. Boyd said, which could cause problems if the face-to-face
purchase of the drug is outlawed in that province after federal

Despite British Columbia's colourful history with the drug, there
would have to be a large cultural shift for cannabis to ever become as
popular as alcohol, Prof. Boyd said.

"Alcohol is used by about 80 per cent of people in most western
cultures and cannabis is used by anywhere from 10 to 15 per cent -
maximum," he said.
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