The provincial government announced Tuesday that the BC Liquor Distribution Branch will be the wholesale distributor of non-medical cannabis once the federal government legalizes marijuana in July 2018.
The policy move by the government is in addition to new rules that state buyers and consumers of recreational marijuana must be at least 19 years old, which is consistent with current laws related to alcohol and tobacco.
Mike Farnworth, the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, spoke to reporters in a conference call but would not say specifically where consumers will be able to legally buy marijuana under the new rules.
Reporters asked about selling marijuana in liquor stores and pharmacies -- and what effect the new rules will have on the dozens of illegal pot shops operating in Vancouver and other municipalities -- but Farnworth said he would have answers in late January, early February of 2018.
"In regards to the retail model of cannabis, we are still looking at a series of options as to how that will take place," he said. "It's my expectation that it will be a public and private retail model. That is fitting with the comments that I have been making publicly since the start of this file that what works in Vancouver may not work in Fort St. John or Kamloops or Campbell River or Port Coquitlam."
The policy decisions come after the government heard via telephone and online from 48,951 British Columbians and received 141 submissions from local and Indigenous governments and a range of others in anticipation of the legalization of marijuana.
The government said the new rules reflect feedback received from local government members of the joint provincial-local government committee on cannabis regulations. The Union of B.C Municipalities executive also endorsed the policy moves.
Dana Larsen, a director of the Vancouver Dispensary Society, said he wasn’t surprised by the government’s direction on how it plans to regulate distribution and retail sales of marijuana.
“It could be worse, but it could be a lot better,” said Larsen, noting he hopes the government's decision to distribute marijuana through the liquor branch doesn’t mean all marijuana will be sold in liquor stores. “If I was in charge, I would just have the licensed producers sell directly to [marijuana] stores.”
Added Larsen: “I don’t like the province having to be the one that’s going to buy and re-sell all the cannabis. I think that’s just going to make it more expensive, it’s going to limit choice and it’s going to make it harder for them to compete against our province’s very robust craft cannabis industry and black-grey market.”
Farnworth said there has been no discussion with the federal government about allowing B.C. to license growers. But, the minister said, he believes there is a need to bring in legally operated "small-scale production" of marijuana, including the possiblity of co-operatives.
In having B.C. create a regulatory framework for the legalization of marijuana, Farnworth said it will require government to introduce or amend up to 18 pieces of legislation.
Farnworth joined Vision Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang in September to announce the government wanted the public’s feedback on how it should regulate distribution and retail sales of marijuana.
At that news conference, Farnworth dismissed any suggestion the government’s aim was to create a new revenue stream.
“This is about legalization and the best way to do it,” he told reporters. “It’s not about saying, ‘Oh, here’s a money grab in which we can get all kinds of revenue in and not have to worry about the consequences.’ It’s either done right, or it’s done wrong. The revenue issue is part of it, but that should not be the first and foremost consideration.”
Farnworth reiterated his statement Tuesday when asked about estimated revenue that legalization will generate for the province.
"I have no doubt that there will be revenue in the medium to long term, but initially our focus is going to be on education, on enforcement, on ensuring that the necessary infrastructure for the legalization of cannabis to proceed smoothly in British Columbia is the priority," he said. "In fact, there has been no revenue from cannabis even considered in our budget work."
Note: This story has been updated since first posted.