Here ‘n’ there: B.C. is taking a hazy approach towards ganja

Like disparate characters in a Humphrey Bogart film, elected representatives, lobbyists, and private citizens continue to articulate and advance a broad range of opinions and recommendations regarding the implementation of one of Canada’s most controversial pieces of legislation in modern history, the legalization of cannabis.

We’re less than eight months away from the implementation date, July 1, 2018, and there are still literally hundreds of advocacy groups and politicians from all three levels of government who feel compelled to add something to the legalized weed conversation.

It’s no secret that most provinces are behind the eight ball when it comes to having a regulatory framework in place for cannabis licensing, distribution and sales.  As I’ve stated in my earlier columns, the provinces and federal government have failed to adequately prepare for 2018. (Example: the BC government’s allowable timeline for public feedback and stakeholder engagement was only five weeks, hardly enough time for individual citizens and community groups to prepare their submissions.)

Throughout the national debate there exists a great deal of misinformation, uncertainty, confusion—and yes, even smidgeons of disingenuousness by politicians claiming that the focus is not on tax revenue generation. But as citizens, let’s show our astuteness by acknowledging that the sale of legalized marijuana is indeed about generating and maximizing tax revenues.

Enter Bill Blair, the Liberal MP, a former police chief of Toronto, who is spearheading the cannabis legalization process for the Trudeau government. Blair and his colleagues are proposing a federal excise tax of $1 per gram of marijuana or 10 per cent of the final retail price, whichever amounts to more. Revenues will be split 50-50 with the provinces.

Accusing the federal government of “smoking something,” Alberta’s finance minister, Joe Cici, rejects the split, suggesting that all the revenues should go to the provinces since they will bear all the costs of implementing and overseeing legislation, enforcement, distribution and retail sales.

“The taxation is one small part of it,” explains BC minister of public safety and solicitor general, Mike Farnworth, adding that a lot of regulatory work still needs to be done, including amendments to various provincial statutes.

Even municipalities want a piece of the action. Kelowna mayor, Colin Basran, advocates a financial model that is similar to revenue sharing of gaming funds.

While the BC government hasn’t yet determined who will be licensed to sell cannabis, the government of Manitoba already has given the green light for the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation to oversee the distribution of cannabis in the province while private retail outlets will handle sales, says Premier Brian Pallister. It appears that Manitoba is better prepared than the other provinces—save, perhaps, for Ontario, where Premier Kathleen Wynne has adroitly sewn up the process by designating the Liquor Control Board of Ontario as overseer of marijuana distribution and sales. It’s an astute move, guaranteeing the province exclusive access to cannabis retail sales revenue.

The Cannabis Act allows adults to purchase and possess a maximum of 30 grams of cannabis, although the provinces will have the choice to lower this amount.

Let’s see if any province does.


Jon Netelenbos
Op-ed columnist

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