Marijuana retail store in Blaine, Wa., just across the B.C. border. (Black Press files)

B.C. VIEWS: Cannabis Day celebration put off until October

Another government monopoly, what could go wrong?

Canada Day 2018 was supposed to be Cannabis Day, as we became the first industrialized country to officially legalize recreational marijuana.

Alas, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s bold vision has once again bumped up against reality, and it will be mid-October beforeprovinces pull together the systems required to take over distribution and regulation.

All Ottawa had to do was pass a law and slap an excise tax of a dollar a gram on recreational sales. B.C. has to create and regulate a production, warehouse and retail store system, enforce an age limit of 19, a public possession limit of 30 grams, a home growing limit of four plants, and step up its existing efforts to control drug-impaired driving.

B.C. has chosen to mirror its alcohol sales system for the new era. The Liquor Distribution Branch will have a wholesale monopoly and open stand-alone “BC Cannabis Stores” staffed by unionized liquor store employees with additional training. But as with liquor retailing, private stores will be allowed to compete, as long as they can get provincial and local approval.

The province is about to experience a reality check too. Walking around downtown Victoria, I see a pot store every couple of blocks in some places. Some have city licences, some don’t. Most pretend to be medical dispensaries, selling buds with nameslike “Bubba God” and “Gorilla Glue” because they’re, you know, medicine.

These dispensaries claim their pot comes from federally licensed medical producers, but that’s often fiction too. B.C. has something that is now called a “craft cannabis” industry that the B.C. government is trying to keep from killing off, while somehow weeding out our world-famous organized crime producers.

Kootenay MLAs are worried that legalization is going to collapse a large part of their local economies, as big greenhouse factories take over. The recently formed B.C. Independent Cannabis Association is predicting there will be a huge shortage of legitimate product, starting the day legalization takes effect. And no one expects the drug gangs to go quietly.

There is still no approved roadside test for pot impairment, although police in B.C. have been given the same 90-day roadside suspension authority they have for drinking and driving. And there is another problem, with the state of the Liquor Distribution Branch.

The government quietly released a report in late June, detailing the struggles of craft beer, cider and spirits producers with the provincial distribution monopoly. The NDP government, like the B.C. Liberals, loves the craft industry like it loves B.C. wineries, but you wouldn’t know it from the way they’re being treated.

Craft cider producers describe the out-of-date system they deal with. Those who produce cider with only B.C. apples are lumped in with the LDB’s “pre-mixed cocktails and coolers” in the “refreshments” category.

“It finds itself categorized with products such as Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Growers and other ‘cooler’-style beverages that are generally made with high levels of sugar, artificial flavouring and the addition of spirits,” craft producers say in the report.

The “refreshments” category comes with a 73 per cent wholesale markup, which is the government’s cut. For a bottle of commercial vodka, by the way, it’s 124 per cent. This tells you why the LDB hasn’t yet comprehended what “craft cider” actually is. It took years of political attention to bring the wholesale markup for craft beer down to 12-14 per cent.

What will the LDB’s wholesale markup be for craft cannabis, or for that matter any cannabis? They’re still working on that, but so far they haven’t figured out they’re killing craft cider.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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