B.C.’s Provincial General Election: Where do the Parties Stand on Cannabis Policy?

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On May 9th, citizens of British Columbia will hit the polls to cast their vote in the 2017 Provincial General Election.  Despite B.C.’s national reputation as a leader in cannabis policy and direction, the topic of recreational cannabis legalization has not been a live issue on the election agenda.

This comes as a shock as the B.C. government that is elected next week will be the one who will have to implement a provincial cannabis regime. Importantly, they will be tasked with determining the rules regarding sales and distribution of recreational cannabis and will have the discretion to raise the legal age to purchase and consume above the age of 18.

Today we bring you up to speed on where the various parties stand when it comes to cannabis policy.

The BC Liberal Party

Christy Clark has been B.C.’s Premier since 2011 and has been infamous for keeping quiet and deferring to the Feds with respect to cannabis legislation. If the Liberals stay in power after this election, Clark has indicated that her plan is to gather an expert panel of police officers and health officials and follow their advice.  Solicitor-General Mike Morris said that a cross-ministry working group has been assembled and is conducting research currently, but hasn’t released any details.

What Clark has said is that the Liberals’ primary concerns are: safety and quality standards of legalized cannabis, removal of the black market, and keeping cannabis away from children.  She has stated that she intends to lift the limit from the minimums set in the Federal Cannabis Act to at least 19 years old, which is the same age that one can legally purchase alcohol in the province.

One Liberal candidate in the Vancouver-Fraserview riding has criticized NDP leader John Horgan’s suggestion of cannabis sales in liquor stores. She notes that NDP candidate George Chow sat on the federal task force and recommended against the sales of cannabis in liquor stores.  This gives insight into the Liberals’ strict adherence to federal recommendations.

Otherwise, the limited amount that has come out of the Liberals thus far does not provide any real clues about what sales, distribution, pricing and taxation of legalized recreational cannabis will look like at a provincial level.

The BC NDP

The NDPs led by John Horgan have expressed support of recreational cannabis legalization. In fact, in the year prior to the Federal Cannabis Act’s release, the NDP party sent two caucus members, Carole James and Mike Farnworth to Washington and Oregon.  The purpose of the trip was to observe how those states implemented sales, use and taxation of legal recreational cannabis at the state-level and to study the implications for public education, health and safety, taxation and sales.  In several interviews after the field study, they stressed the critical nature of having a plan in place for provincial implementation of the legalization scheme.  NDP Candidates have criticized the Liberals hands-off approach up to this point and believe that proactive consultation with municipalities is better suited to a strong and fulsome regulatory framework across all levels.

If the NDP party upsets the B.C. Liberals, Horgan has publicly stated that he sees a hybrid system for sales and distribution. He has talked sales with a wide array of stakeholders, including: the B.C. Government Service Employees Union, operators of private beer and wine stores, pharmacies, store-front dispensaries and craft breweries.  Horgan has also stated his intentions of keeping recreational cannabis prices and taxes low in order to divert consumers from the competing black market.  Despite seeing the potential revenue for the province, the focus will remain focused on health and public safety.  Horgan has said that the party wouldn’t make any decisions on how to handle tax revenue until federal legislation is finalized.

Notably, Horgan has agreed with Liberal leader Christy Clark in suggesting that the legal age limit for the purchase of cannabis be set at 19.

The BC Green Party

Since 2001, the BC Greens have supported legalization of cannabis in B.C. With respect to sales, Party leader Andrew Weaver has expressed support for a B.C. craft cannabis grower community, with the goal of increased competition for larger LPs and multinationals in the legal recreational market.  In his view, Weaver sees a distribution model that allows consumers to sample and purchase product at a producer’s location, but also directs sales through a liquor distribution branch.  He also sees a role for pharmacies in the distribution model.   Robert Mellalieu, Green candidate for Kelowna West further backs the idea of provincial regulations supporting small, independent businesses.

Weaver has also said that the taxation of recreational cannabis may be a source of income passed back to the municipalities. Ultimately, candidates from the Green Party hope to see a societal shift away from the stigma associated with cannabis use.

None of the three main parties have commented directly on what the price of legal cannabis will be, although we have seen the commitment to getting funds out of the hands of criminal organizations so we expect to see prices set low at a point where the legal market can compete with, and drive out, the black market.

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