B.C. unveils pot plans: marijuana to be sold in standalone government stores, separate from liquor

The B.C. government has begun filling in the details surrounding its plans for regulating and selling non-medical marijuana.

Legal age for pot possession will be 19, with adults allowed to possess up to 30 grams of non-medical cannabis

B.C. liquor stores have been lobbying to sell pot alongside alcohol. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The B.C. government has begun filling in the details surrounding its plans for regulating and selling non-medical marijuana, but is cautioning it will take some time for a clearer picture to form. 

"There are many key policy areas where decisions still have to be made," said Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, in announcing the proposed rules. 

"July 2018 is only the beginning. All governments will have to assess and refine cannabis policy in the months and years to come."

Most notably, liquor stores will not be allowed to sell cannabis, with the B.C Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) creating and operating a new standalone network of public retail stores.

The legal age of possession will be 19, with adults allowed to possess up to 30 grams of non-medical cannabis.

Other important details include the following:

  • Cannabis will not be allowed inside vehicles (unless in a sealed package or an inaccessible place) and those caught driving while impaired will be given a 90-day prohibition.
  • Adults will be allowed to grow up to four cannabis plants per household, but they may not be visible from public spaces, and landlords and strata councils will have the right to ban cultivation.
  • Smoking and vaping of non-medical cannabis will be banned in beaches, parks, playgrounds and other places "frequented by children," according to the government. 

The government is expected to implement the regulations through a series of bills during the upcoming legislative session, so they can be in place by the time non-medical cannabis is legalized this July. 

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announces proposed regulations for legalized non-medicinal marijuana in British Columbia on Feb. 5, 2018. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

Outlets must be self-contained

Individuals and businesses will be allowed to begin early registration for retail licences later this spring. All operations will only be allowed to sell cannabis products, except in rural areas. 

Children will not be allowed to enter the building and samples will not be allowed.

The government announced last year the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch would be the wholesale distributor of non-medical cannabis, and there had been lobbying in some sectors for existing public liquor stores to be the primary retail outlet for cannabis. 

"The public health officials and provincial health officers felt very strongly on this issue," said Farnworth, who added that a federal government task force's recommendations and feedback from local governments also played into the decision.  

There will be no cap on the number of licences, but local governments will have veto power, with "the authority to make local decisions, based on the needs of their communities."

Farnworth said it could mean complete bans on marijuana outlets in some municipalities, but it would not impede access because online sales would be permited — though only for the public retailer.

"I know Richmond has said they don't want any in their community, and I don't have a problem with that."

Pricing, edibles and opening dates to be determined

The government is hopeful to have the first new public and private stores in operation by the end of the summer, but can't say whether existing dispensaries in Vancouver and Victoria hoping to transition to sell to all consumers could be approved ahead of that.

"We're currently developing the licensing process. That will be made public, and once that's in place, people will be able to apply ... if they want to be in business, they're going to have to apply, they're going to have to get their licence and approval from the city and from the province of B.C." said Farnworth.

"It's going to take some time before we get the retail system, the entire system up and running, the way it's going to be." 

Also yet to be developed, is a framework around pricing. In addition, edibles will not be allowed until regulation around them is created by the federal government, which is expected within a year of legalization. 

Newly elected B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson criticized the government's plan.

"We're less than five months away from [legalization], and the NDP is asking the commercial world to turn itself on its ear to sort themselves out," he said.

"What we've got right now is ... chaotic, and it's up to the government of B.C. to figure out what's going to flow out from the federal rules, and the NDP have been asleep at the switch."

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is a reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering political stories throughout British Columbia.

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