An exchange in the Legislature on Oct. 5, 2017 between interim Opposition Leader Rich Coleman and Premier John Horgan on marijuana legislation and regulation of dispensaries:
R. Coleman: In about nine months, there is going to be a profound change come across the social infrastructure of British Columbia and Canada, when the legalization of marijuana takes place.
It’s going to have long-term health impacts. It’s going to affect our youth. We need to know how we’re going to handle this in such a way that…. The THC, which can actually damage the adolescent mind up to an older age, is substantial. It does require a thoughtful evidence-based drug policy.
My question is to the Premier. Earlier this week, the Premier was quoted as saying we are well advanced in terms of the retail elements. “We have, in some parts of the Lower Mainland, more dispensaries than we do Starbucks.”
Yesterday, the Solicitor General said: “As I said yesterday, and I say today, we’ve not landed on a retail model.”
I’d like to know how far along we are, Premier, with the policy with regard to marijuana, so that people in communities in British Columbia can know what to get ready for, how they will handle the zoning, how they will handle management of the product, because it’s going to be important, in nine months, that we’re ready to go.
Hon. J. Horgan: I thank the member for his question. The comments that he referred to I made at a first ministers conference in Ottawa where the subject matter there for discussion was in fact the accelerated speed with which the federal government is moving on legalization of cannabis. The context of my remarks was to put us in a place beside other provinces in Canada.
We all know, certainly those that live in the Lower Mainland and the south Island, where there is a proliferation of dispensaries, that municipal levels of government have been ahead of the curve on this when senior levels of government have been waiting for some action from Ottawa. That was the context of my remarks.
When it comes to where we are in terms of how we will retail these products in the future, my colleague the Solicitor General was responsible for that. We started a consultation at UBCM last week, and we’ll await the results of that consultation.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Official Opposition on a supplemental.
R. Coleman: To the Premier again: I’ve had some consultations over the years, and I’ve had long conversations with local government and, more importantly, with law enforcement.
It is well known in my community, with the proliferation of the dispensaries in my community, that very few of them operate within the law. They sell marijuana illegally, as well as legally on the medical side. It goes out the back door. It goes through the front door. They write prescriptions in the back room so that somebody can get their marijuana right now, and they’re not medical professionals. Law enforcement tells me that a lot of people who are involved in the dispensaries that have proliferated are not operating in a legal manner.
Will the Premier make a commitment to British Columbians today that we will not allow anybody that has operated illegally in the marijuana space in British Columbia to ever have a licence to dispense in the future in British Columbia?
Hon. J. Horgan: I don’t know how many dispensaries have emerged in British Columbia since July 18, but I do know there was an enormous expansion of the distribution of cannabis under the watch of the government on the other side.
I’m reminded of my time on that side. If the member has evidence of criminal activity, I’m certain that as a former law enforcement officer, he’ll know how to deal with that, so I won’t give him chapter and verse on how to deal with that. I will also add — for the benefit of the members here and the benefit of people watching at home and those in the gallery — that the parliamentary secretary driving this initiative from the federal level is a guy named Bill Blair. Bill Blair was the chief of police in Toronto. He was in law enforcement for 40 years. I believe that at the federal level we’re in very good hands.
I’m absolutely convinced that the minister responsible here in British Columbia will take that responsibility seriously, and we will have in place, in the appropriate time, a distribution and regulation system that protects young people and ensures that health and safety are paramount and that the public who wants to access this product can do so lawfully.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Official Opposition on a second supplemental.
R. Coleman: The Premier, I’m sure, has looked at the briefing across government. He will know that work was already being done as to how we would handle this product legally going forward and on the options that were available to British Columbians.
The issue that’s here is a standard that we need to know exists as we go forward. There are people operating dispensaries in my community that the police are investigating. There are dispensaries elsewhere in this province where people are being investigated by police. I don’t think this proliferation of dispensaries — if there’s one like every Starbucks on the Lower Mainland — is good social policy with regard to how many places you can access a product and put it in a competitive space where somebody is actually going to sell it illegally to young people because they need to make their money. I think you need a strong format and foundation for this. I believe that strongly.
I just want the Premier to commit today that nobody that has been selling in a dispensary in British Columbia, either with not having the right licence or not having the right bylaw, will ever, ever get the opportunity to sell marijuana in British Columbia.
Hon. J. Horgan: Again, 16 years in power, the explosion of dispensaries on their watch…. If the Leader of the Opposition has evidence of criminal activity, I’m certain that his colleagues on either side, both members of the bar, will be able to direct him to the appropriate law enforcement agency to deal with those allegations.
I want the public to know that this government takes this file very, very seriously. In opposition, we did a lot of legwork, going to Washington and Oregon, looking at what systems were put in place there.
We’re going to act responsibly. We’re going to act in the public interest, and we’ll do so in a timely manner.
Source: BC Hansard (Draft transcript).