Cannabis Regulations Safeguard Local Choice, Jurisdiction

The Province has released additional regulations as part of its framework for legalized cannabis. The new regulations focus on the retail sale of non-medical cannabis, and outline policies to address public consumption, personal cultivation and drug-impaired driving. The new rules align with UBCM’s advocacy and recommendations provided by the Joint Provincial-Local Government Committee on Cannabis Regulation (JCCR).   

UBCM President Wendy Booth, part of the joint committee, praised the province for its ongoing consultation with local government. “Our members have been seeking confirmation that we will be able to regulate cannabis retail as we do for the sale of alcohol. We also have supported separating the sale of cannabis from alcohol for reasons of public health. The regulations the province has brought address these concerns and are good news for local government.”

Retail Framework

Non-medical cannabis will be available for purchase through government-operated outlets, private stores and online. The Liquor Distribution Branch will assume responsibility for operating standalone government retail stores, while the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch will be in charge of licensing private retail operations.

Retail co-location of non-medical cannabis with alcohol or tobacco will not be permitted in urban areas, along with other products such as food, gas, and lottery tickets. This approach is consistent with the prevalent viewpoint in the medical community, including that of former Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, and was supported by the JCCR in its first submission to the Province. 

At the same time, the JCCR has also advocated for smaller communities to be eligible to receive an exemption to this rule, given that some smaller jurisdictions lack the capacity or demand to warrant a separate location for both liquor and non-medical cannabis. The Province, as members of the JCCR, concluded that exceptions be established for rural non-medical cannabis retail stores, similar to exceptions that currently exist for rural liquor stores.

The Province will launch its registration process for those seeking a non-medical cannabis retail licence this spring. As part of this process, there will not be a cap on the number of retail licences issued, although licences will not be issued without local government support through a council resolution, based in part on a required public consultation process. Local governments will have the ability to impose security and distance requirements for retail outlets. Retail outlets may operate from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. unless additional restrictions are put in place by a local government.

Through this process, local governments will have the ability to restrict, and if they so choose, completely ban cannabis sales (including public stores).

“It makes good sense to model the retail sale of cannabis on the current framework for alcohol,” said Councillor Kerry Jang, JCCR Co-Chair. “The proposed model prevents the download of licensing while providing local governments with the tools to locate and manage the number of stores in their communities. Clarifying these issues lays the groundwork for sorting out the appropriate sharing of tax revenues.”

The Province has also released a Private Retail Licensing Guide, providing additional information regarding its retail system for non-medical cannabis.

Public Consumption

Adults 19 years and older will be permitted to consume non-medical cannabis in public spaces where tobacco smoking and vaping are allowed. Exceptions to this rule include a ban on consumption in areas frequented by children, such as beaches and parks, as well as inside vehicles. Similar to tobacco use, additional restrictions will be at the discretion of local governments. The JCCR has previously advocated for all these changes, as well as a strong enforcement regime for restricting cannabis smoking/vaping.

The Committee also supports the development of licenced establishments where individuals can consume cannabis. The Province has decided not to immediately licence consumption venues/lounges; discussions will continue with the JCCR.

As part of its restrictions on public consumption, the Province has permitted landlords and strata councils to restrict or prohibit consumption at tenanted and strata properties.

Personal Cultivation

Consistent with proposed federal restrictions, British Columbia will permit adults to grow a maximum of four plants per household. The plants must not be visible from public spaces located outside the property. Personal cultivation will not be permitted in dwellings used for daycares. The JCCR directly advocated in favour of all these policy decisions, and going forward supports the use of provincial resources and strong administrative penalties to act as a deterrent for those who violate restrictions on personal cultivation.

As part of its restrictions on personal cultivation, the Province has permitted landlords and strata councils to restrict or prohibit cultivation of non-medical cannabis at tenanted and strata properties.

Drug-impaired Driving

The Province will increase training for law enforcement in order to manage drug-impaired driving. Consistent with JCCR recommendations, the Province will also introduce new measures to deter drug-impaired driving, including a new 90-day administrative driving prohibition for drug-affected driving and zero-tolerance restrictions for the presence of THC in drivers who are part of the Graduated Licensing Program.

The Union of BC Municipalities recently endorsed resolution 2017-B88 which requests funding for police agencies to increase the number of certified drug recognition experts. It is unclear how much of the recently announced federal funding to support law enforcement will be allocated to British Columbia for police officer training.

Next Steps

The JCCR will continue to work with the Province of British Columbia to analyze and discuss policy decisions, including the distribution of taxation revenue, in advance of legalization.

To stay up to date with the work of the JCCR, please see the Committee’s webpage.

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