Retail landscape revealed in British Columbia’s proposed pot laws

VICTORIA — How and where recreational pot users can buy marijuana will vary by municipality in British Columbia when it becomes legal.

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth shed more light on the shifting retail landscape in a trio of bills he introduced Thursday that will determine the legal framework for the drug’s regulation if passed.

“It puts our province in a position to not only meet the federal deadline, but does so in a way that satisfies our provincial goals to protect children and youth, prioritize public health and safety, keep cannabis out of the hands of criminals, keep our road safe and protect B.C.’s economic prosperity,” Farnworth said.

But while the introduction of legislation marks a big step toward regulating recreational pot in B.C., some grey areas remain. Provincial staff are still working on a price point that will stem the black market. And the province is hamstrung until the federal government rules on legality of edibles and impairment detection technology for drivers, he said.

The province will have jurisdiction over wholesale distribution of cannabis and sales will be allowed to buyers who are at least 19 years old.

It will be up to each municipality to determine if and where recreational marijuana can be sold, and whether it is sold in private or government stores, or a mix of both.

Provincially run pot shops will operate under the banner B.C. Cannabis Store, similar to the B.C. Liquor Store model. The first government-operated retail store is expected to open by late summer and public sales will also be available online.

Farnworth said there will be a range of products sold at public stores, including oils and dried marijuana.

Anyone interested in operating a private store — including existing dispensaries — must apply for a licence. Operators must also pass a background check and while minor offences will be overlooked, major criminal offences like trafficking will not.

“There will be comprehensive background checks that look into the whole range of where the money’s coming from, who the directors of the company are, is there any link to organized crime,” Farnworth said.

“If you have any links to organized crime, you’re going to be out the door, you won’t get a licence.”

Farnworth said he’s confident the administrative penalties are strong enough to prevent rogue dispensaries from continuing to operate illegally.

A new provincial community-safety unit will target illegal sellers.

There will also be a 90-day driving prohibition on drivers found under the influence of drugs and a zero-tolerance policy for new drivers in the graduated licensing program found with any THC in their systems.

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