Kylee Noble at the Hammond Compassion Society

Kylee Noble at the Hammond Compassion Society

‘Consult cities on cannabis’: NDP

‘Other provinces could get a head start’

Reports the federal government is soon to release its laws on recreational pot has the NDP’s Mike Farnworth awaiting the provincial response.

“So far, we’ve not seen any work on this by the provincial government,” said Farnworth, who’s seeking re-election in Port Coquitlam.

Last year, Farnworth, along with MLA Carole James, visited Washington, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, and Oregon, to learn about some of the issues.

“How are they going to do the licensing? What type of edibles can be sold? What’s the tax level going to look like?”

If marijuana sales taxes are too high, that could allow the black market to continue, said Farnworth.

The key point is that the rules have to be in place before marijuana is legalized, he added.

The CBC said this week the federal government will bring in legislation in a few weeks, which is expected to follow ideas laid out by a federal task force last year.

Farnworth said cities should be consulted, such as whether they’ll be allowed to limit the number of shops that sell recreation pot.

“Those are all crucial questions, and yet nothing’s happened.”

Testing for quality control is crucial, he added.

Brett Steves, with the Hammond Compassion Society, which opened on Maple Crescent two years ago to dispense medicinal marijuana, agrees with Farnworth that the regulations have to be in place before recreational pot is legalized.

“At the end of the day, it will boil down to what the federal government wants to do,” while giving the provinces responsibility for setting retail rules. He said liquor control boards could simply manage recreational pot retailing.

If medical marijuana dispensaries are allowed to transition to selling recreational marijuana, he’d also make that change.

But Hammond Compassion Society has already 9,600 members.

“We’ve got every kind of illness that you can possibly think of walking through the door, looking for an alternative to opiates.”

Dan Sutton, with Tantalus Labs, which has built a medical marijuana greenhouse in east Maple Ridge on 272nd Street, is also waiting for provincial response.

He said B.C. could lose jobs and money if other provinces get a head start on serving the recreational marijuana market.

“I think it’s not right that ahead of the B.C. election, we haven’t had any insight about the Liberal, NDP or Green party plan for legalized cannabis distribution in this province … to date.”

Tantalus is still waiting for its licence from Health Canada to produce medicinal marijuana.

Sutton says the provincial government should create a task force of industry and policy experts to formulate B.C. policies on recreational pot.

“B.C. may watch a multi-billion industry slip through its fingers.”

Ottawa’s legislation is supposed to allow the provinces to set retail regulations while allowing individuals to grow up to four plants themselves.

Sutton added that Health Minister Jane Philpot has said that health and safety standards for recreational marijuana will be federally regulated and mirror those for medical marijuana.

That’s got potential medicinal marijuana producers thinking big.

“What most industry insiders are interpreting is that licenced [medical] producers will become the producers for recreational, adult-use … cannabis.”

Any company that wants to produce recreational pot would then have to follow those standards.

With recreational pot legalized, the market could grow 100 times, Sutton said.

“We’ll be able to do it,” he added.

Tantalus’s greenhouse production system makes it the largest possible marijuana producer in B.C., he said.

Sutton also said age verification will be critical, as will supply train transparency and security when it comes to legalization.

Maple Ridge Coun. Craig Speirs said there should be room for pot producers on the craft scale and suggested the province form something similar to the Vintner’s Quality Alliance, which certifies that certain wines meet particular standards.

He also favours allowing the dispensaries that are now selling medical marijuana to sell recreational pot.

“The dispensaries that we have today have no problem servicing the market and I haven’t heard any complaints.”

But large licenced producers need access to storefronts, as well.

Testing and quality control remain major issues. Spears would like the minimum age for buying pot to be 19, the same age as for buying alcohol.

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Liberal MLA Doug Bing said it’s the first he’s heard of the issue and it will be difficult to get a government response during the middle of the election.

Ottawa has pledged to introduce legislation to legalize pot this spring. In December, a federal task force recommended selling marijuana via mail or in storefronts, separate from tobacco and alcohol, to Canadians 18 years and older. The task force recommended a growing limit of four plants per person.

“We’re changing the current criminal prohibition to a system of strict regulations,” former Toronto police chief and current justice parliamentary secretary Bill Blair, said last month.