Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth told municipal leaders across B.C. that the government is beginning an extensive public engagement on how legalized marijuana will be sold and regulated in the province.
"In terms of zoning, in terms of licensing, it's important we get it right," said Farnworth.
He says when it comes to pot access the province it won't be "one size fits all" and the aim won't be a "cash grab."
"We want to make sure the policy we put in place meets the needs of British Columbians."
Farnworth said the public engagement process will focus on what the legal age for cannabis use will be, what legal possession limits will be, drug-impaired driving and issues around personal cultivation.
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The province will seek feedback, from a "representative sample" of people in B.C., he said.
"We have not landed on any decision around the distribution model, we have not landed on any decisions on the retail model, because I've made it clear, there's different opinions in different parts of the province."
Local government representatives are in Vancouver for their annual Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) convention, and at the top of the agenda is a push to get municipalities at the table in developing the regulatory framework around legalized cannabis.
Retail models could be different across the country
In addition, the government has set up a website to solicit public feedback, with the hopes of finishing consultation by Nov. 1.
Legislation would be passed in the spring of 2018.
"This is an aggressive timeline," said Farnworth, who said the transition in government was a large reason for the short consultation time.
"But our government is working quickly to achieve the goal of the July 2018 implementation date."
No need for one-size fits all
Farnworth also said there could be changes on how cannabis is allowed to be sold across the province.
"There are clear guidelines on age. The distribution model will be the same. In terms of enforcement, in terms of possession limits, all of those things will be standard. But in terms of retail models … I don't see any reason why we have to have a one-size fits all approach in British Columbia," he said.
"Vancouver has one particular model, and some people are happy with that, others are not necessarily happy with that. Prince George may have a different approach. Port Coquitlam might have a different approach."
Funding, licensing issues to be addressed
Farnworth also said that revenue generation would not be a primary aim of B.C.'s regulatory and retail system.
"This is not about bringing on a whole revenue structure. If that's how provinces approach it, they're making a big mistake," he said, adding that there would be significant upfront costs for B.C.
"This is about legalization ... it's not about oh, here's a money grab. It's either done right, or it's done wrong. The revenue is part of it, but that should not be the first and foremost consideration."
Farnworth said the amount of money provided the federal government for upfront costs — and any additional police officers and inspectors needed to regulate the industry — was still being determined.
He also said he was awaiting details by the federal government on production regulations, as the province already has a significant underground industry.
"It's crucial to ensure you have enough legitimate supply coming on stream to meet the demand in B.C.," he said.
But despite those questions and the short timeline for consultation, Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang was ecstatic at the government's announcement.
"My initial response was pinch me. Is this really happening?" he said.
"To find out we're having a full public consultation ... is very important, and the right way to go."
With files from The Canadian Press