‘Craft’ cannabis and a mixed public and private retail model were two of the main topics of the morning at the Union of BC Municipalities’ three hour session on legal cannabis in British Columbia, which took place this Monday at the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Vancouver.
The BC government is still being careful not to give any specifics as to what they plan to do, and Monday’s announcement was largely about an online consultation process that will be open until the end of November. Much of the talk from speakers and attendees was for a mixed model of cannabis retail, similar to how alcohol is sold in BC.
In his speech to the delegates prior to the formal press conference, Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, was careful to say the province had not decided on a distribution model, noting the need for a diverse system.
“We have not landed on any decisions around the distribution model that will be in place. We have not yet landed on any decisions around the retail model that will be in place, because I’ve made it clear, there’s different opinions in different parts of the province. Vancouver has taken one approach, Victoria has taken another approach, but what works in Vancouver may not work in Port Coquitlam or may not work in Prince George or Campbell River or Fort Nelson or Cranbrook. We are open to putting in place a regime that works for the different parts of this province.”
Farnworth says the province will be assembling a joint working group in coordination with UBCM and ‘elected and technical experts’ to look at key issues like enforcement, zoning, licensing, etc.
“We are unique, I think, on this particular issue compared to many other provinces, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that […] there's a greater use of cannabis in this province than in other provinces in the country. There has been a long established industry black market and gray market in this province, there’s a lot of public awareness about it, so we want to make sure that the public policy that we put in place meets the needs of British Columbians.”
During a four-person panel lead by Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang—who has been the city’s lead on their business licensing program for medical dispensaries—this diversity of opinion, especially around retail, was highlighted as well.
“We really need to come up with a made in BC solution,” said Jang, “and one that suits different municipalities differently.”
White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin, who was part of the panel, said he thinks Ontario’s approach of a province-run distribution and retail system is the easiest way to get things going, and the province can alter that decision over time.
“It has to be simple. If it’s not simple, it’s going to be very hard to deal with. Ontario’s solution sounds like a quick and dirty way to do it, but I think it’s effective, and maybe thats a good starting point. So something along the lines of what Ontario has proposed might be a good way to go, and we can take a look at it afterwards. But July 2018 isn’t a long way away.”
Councillor Judy Greenway from the District of Fort St John, also on the panel, said she doesn’t see her community being open to the kind of model used in places like Vancouver, but thinks the province should be open to allowing communities to have that choice, rather than a one-size-fits-all model.
“Vancouver is very different from what we know. We’d like to see something that’s more tailored to the community that we’re in . At this point I’m not too sure how that looks, but I know it’s not going to look like Vancouver, for sure.”
“Everyone should respect,” continued Greenway, “whether or not you're for it or against it, the legislation is there, but you have to respect the people that don’t want to, and the people that don’t want to also have to respect the people that are going to be using cannabis.”
Nelson mayor Deb Kozak said that she can’t picture a retail model that would restrict existing medical cannabis dispensaries, and drew probably the loudest applause of the panel when she referenced farmers in her area looking to produce craft cannabis.
“I can’t possibly see how recreational cannabis will be legalized whereas medical dispensaries as we call them here won’t be and people will just have to use mail order. I think that is foolish, I think there will still be people who will not go the mail route and it would be great to look at this from a more common sense fashion.”
One city councillor who spoke at the end of the panel, Neil Horner from Quallicum Beach, said he wanted to see a system whereby existing growers can supply the BC market. Although the proposed regulations give control of licensing production to the federal government, this was also a common theme.
In an interview after the panel, Horner said that cannabis is, by his estimate, about 1.5-4.6% of the BC economy, and that BC would stand to lose a lot, especially in small communities, if those currently growing aren't able to be a part of the legal market.
“There’s an awful lot of mom and pops,” says Horner. “If you cut those people out, you’re going to see communities whither and maybe some of them die. I’m talking about places like Texada, Likely, Horsefly. All these small communities where logging has sort of gone away.
“What I want ... is a local industry that is served by local producers, not some bunker in Ontario. We have the infrastructure and there’s got to be some way to transition, to utilize that. We are the best in the world. We are. So let’s keep that up.”
Craig Speirs, a city councillor from Maple Ridge who attended the event, echoed similar sentiments.
“What I’ve been doing is talking to people in the Kootenays and all these little communities and they don’t want their economy ripped apart. They want their community respected and brought into the deal—not excluded. And I think that Minister Farnworth has grasped that already. I think he understands the idea of craft cannabis and the need for that, and there’s a large market. There’s going to be a lot of room for the LPs, there’s going to be a lot of room for everybody that can produce decent cannabis.”