Medical marijuana production facility in Richmond B.C. (Black Press files)

B.C. keeps marijuana retail options open

Province may follow Ontario model of government stores

The B.C. government is keeping all of its options on the table for legal marijuana sales, including the government monopoly retail model announced by Ontario, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said Thursday.

Farnworth was going into two days of meetings in Vancouver with federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and other provincial ministers. They are facing a deadline of July 1, 2018 set for recreational pot sales to become legal, amid warnings from police that it’s not enough time to prepare.

The federal framework gives Ottawa authority over licensing, production, testing and quality control. Provinces are responsible for distribution and retail sales, and Farnworth said the top priority for the province and police is getting organized crime out of the marijuana business.

“Distribution key to that, whether you have a central distribution location, for example the Liquor Distribution Branch, or multiple distribution options,” Farnworth said.

“Vancouver has a model that they seem to do fine with. Plenty of people don’t like it but many people do like it. That may not sell in Port Coquitlam or in Fort St. John, or in the Kootenays or on the Island.”

Ottawa has set a minimum age of 18 for buying marijuana, but B.C. could choose 19 as it has for liquor sales, or a higher limit. B.C. will consult with local governments, police, the existing legal medical marijuana industry and the public, and Farnworth expects to take options to the B.C. cabinet soon.

On taxation, he said it’s important that provinces have similar rates, and that legalization not be seen as a “money grab” for governments.

“When [Finance Minister] Carole James and myself were down in Washington and Oregon, one thing that was very clear is that you cannot set the tax rate so high that it encourages the black market,” Farnworth said.

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