British Columbia

Public and private stores to sell recreational pot in B.C., with 19 as the purchasing age

Recreational pot in B.C. will be available in public and private stores and the minimum age to purchase will be 19, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth announces.

Provincial liquor board to handle wholesale distribution

Legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada is expected to take place in July 2018. (Kate Adach/CBC)

Recreational pot sold in British Columbia will be sold at both public and privately run stores, the provincial government says.

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth made several announcements Tuesday morning about what the future of recreational pot would be in B.C. ahead of the federal government's anticipated legalization of the drug in July 2018.

He also announced the minimum age to purchase pot would be 19.

The provincial Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) will handle wholesale distribution.

Farnworth said the decisions announced Tuesday were shaped by input from over 48,000 British Columbians received by the province over recent months.

"It's clear that British Columbians support the priorities of protecting young people, health and safety, keeping the criminal element out of cannabis and keeping roads safe, which will guide the province in developing B.C.'s regulatory framework for non-medical cannabis," he said in a release.

He said the province also solicited input from local governments before crafting the rules.

B.C. Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said government revenues from cannabis sales won't be immediate. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

More details in new year

Farnworth said a distribution involving both the private and public sectors has been embraced by all provinces which have unveiled plans for cannabis legalization.

When asked if the province stood to profit from being involved in distribution, he said he believed it eventually would. He added there would be significant up-front costs at the outset though and said the 2018 budget would not anticipate any revenue from cannabis.

He said more details on what retail sales would look like would be revealed at the end of January or beginning of February.

He said no details were available yet about pricing.

Union applauds move

Stephanie Smith, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union, which represents LDB employees, said it makes sense for her union's members to handle cannabis distribution because of their experience dealing with alcohol.

"It's already a very and secure and efficient distribution system," she said. "We believe it's a fiscally responsible choice rather than setting up a very costly parallel system."

Barinder Rasode, CEO for the National Institute for Cannabis Health and Education, said she is "encouraged" by the government's plan so far, but added the province has a difficult path ahead.

"We have set a precedent of having licensed dispensaries in the municipality of Vancouver," she said. "They [the NDP government] have to balance access to patients, which the courts have ruled we have a duty to provide, and providing that access in a way with strains and a service model that patients are accustomed to here."

Marijuana legalization and Vancouver dispensary owner Dana Larsen expressed skepticism about Tuesday's announcement. (Meera Bains)

Advocate 'not too happy'

But marijuana legalization advocate Dana Larsen of Sensible BC said he was "not too happy" about the LDB acting as the province's wholesaler.

"I think it's going to add a layer of bureaucracy and cost for not much benefit," he told Gloria Macarenko, host of CBC's B.C. Almanac.

"Cannabis is already regulated by Health Canada federally so the province doesn't need to be looking into the quality or anything like that. I don't see why producers can't just sell directly to retailers or the customer."

Liberal MLA Mike Morris, the province's former solicitor general, called today's announcement a "step in the right direction," but said it was important to make sure private sellers are safe from predation and influence from organized crime.

With files from Belle Puri, Joel Ballard and B.C. Almanac