Pubdate: Sun, 11 Mar 2018
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Mike Smyth


Near the historic native village of Kitwancool in northern B.C., the
hereditary chief of the Gitanyow frog clan has his eye on an old
logging site that could be the perfect place to grow a new cash crop.

"It's already serviced with a power supply," said Will Marsden. "We
see an opportunity for our people to be employed in sustainable jobs
in our traditional territories."

Those jobs would be in the legal marijuana trade, coming soon to
British Columbia and the rest of Canada.

The Gitanyow band is just one of many First Nations exploring
opportunities in the recreational pot business now that legalization
is getting closer.

Justin Trudeau's federal Liberal government has promised legal
marijuana by this summer, and there's been a surge of interest from
Indigenous communities.

"I've had chiefs come up to me in the last month asking what role they
can play and what benefits they can achieve from a legal product,"
said B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser.

The provincial government has reached out to more than 200 Indigenous
governments and organizations to consult with them about legal weed.

"The province has also been meeting with individual Indigenous
governments as well as attending chiefs gatherings," the ministry
said, adding a formal "working group" is being considered to fully
involve First Nations in discussions about legal marijuana.

But, like almost all aspects of pot, the issue is a complex

While some First Nations advocates are excited about the economic
opportunities around legal marijuana, others worry about negative
impacts in communities where substance abuse is already a problem.

"There are two sides to it and I hear both of them," Fraser

Then there are jurisdictional and tax considerations. Marijuana
production or sales on Indian reserves would fall under federal
jurisdiction and conceivably operate tax-free.

Could that attract criminal involvement in tax-free pot, similar to
the black-market trade in tax-free cigarettes smuggled off reserves?

"First Nations could be extremely vulnerable to organized crime
infiltrating and intimidating their groups," warned Mike Morris,
Liberal justice critic at the B.C. legislature.

But Phil Fontaine, a former national chief of the Assembly of First
Nations and now a marijuana entrepreneur, said those problems can be

"Proper security would be critical," Fontaine said. "This is about
doing things right and operating within the legal framework."

For one of the busiest cabinet ministers in the B.C. government, it's
all just one more set of challenging policy questions in the
province's overall pot plan.

"This really is a huge file and very complex," said Solicitor General
Mike Farnworth. "And the timeline is very tight."

Legal recreational marijuana was originally promised by July 1, but
that's been pushed back by the feds to late summer and possibly beyond.

As the pot clock ticks down toward legalization, Farnworth is
preparing to present a flurry of enabling bills in the B.C.

The provincial marijuana system will cover pot distribution (through
the B.C. liquor distribution branch), retail (a mix of private and
public stand-alone stores) and law enforcement (including criminal
background checks on retailers and enforcing federal drug-impaired
driving laws.)

What does that mean for the dozens of existing "medical" marijuana
dispensaries operating in Vancouver, Victoria and other

"There's no grandfathering taking place," Farnworth said. "They will
be allowed to apply, but that does not necessarily mean they will get
a licence."

Meanwhile, the province is waiting for more details from Ottawa about
the overall rollout of legal weed.

"Things like packaging, marketing, advertising - we still don't know
what those final detailed regulations are going to look like," he said.

"Then there's the drug-impaired driving issue: the roadside testing,
the machines that will be in place and available to the police. We're
still waiting for that."

Another major component will be marijuana production, which will be
regulated by Ottawa.

"We want to make sure that B.C. gets its fair share in terms of
federally licensed production, including small-scale producers,"
Farnworth said.

That's something B.C. Green party leader Andrew Weaver is also
watching closely.

"Look at the massive success of B.C. craft beer - craft cannabis
should be treated in a similar way," Weaver said.

"The economic value - the jobs, the prosperity - is achieved when you
protect small, local business. If you're not careful, you get swamped
by big multinational companies."

Farnworth hopes B.C.'s first legal recreational marijuana stores will
open this summer. But with so many competing interests, complex rules
and inevitable lawsuits, he's not predicting a booming startup business.

"I expect it will be phased in over time," he said. "It may take a
couple of years before you see the full system in place and
functioning the way we anticipate."

Until then, the scramble is on to carve up the pot pie.
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MAP posted-by: Matt