KNOX – No reefer madness as legalization begins in Great Weed North

TOMMY CHONG almost didn’t make it to Victoria on Wednesday.

The 80-year-old Canadian cannabis legend was scheduled to mark the first day of legalization in the Great Weed North with a talk to B.C. marijuana growers, but when it came time to fly up from the U.S., he couldn’t find his passport. For real. Insert your own punchline here.

The mix-up caused Chong to miss an event in Kelowna, but organizers arranged to pile him onto a private plane in time to make the late-evening event at Victoria’s Distrikt nightclub, where he was to address a group that says it represents 15,000 craft growers, including 4,000 from Vancouver Island.

Yes, you read those numbers correctly. They’re the small-scale pot producers who are worried about getting steamrollered by industrial-scale Big Bud.

Such dramas aside, the big day didn’t look much different from the previous ones in Victoria. Reefer Madness failed to grip the city. Aside from the legislature light-up, no cloud of smoke rose to blot out the unseasonably blue sky.

A couple of Victoria-based businesses took advantage of the new legal landscape to launch new ventures. Butiq Escapes is offering a tour in which clients will be helicoptered to a secret mountaintop to enjoy a marijuana-infused luxury experience — barbecue, hammocks, joints, a souvenir glass bong. A couple of groups are booked to go, though none flew Wednesday, Butiq’s Ryan Clark said. “Nobody took off the work day.”

Back on the ground, Hotel Zed announced a Weed Walk Guide that directs guests to local dispensaries — even though many of those dispensaries are emptying their shelves while waiting for governmental blessing to keep operating.

One thing Victoria’s remaining illegal pot shops don’t need to worry about: the city cops.

“The Victoria Police Department does not plan to take drug enforcement action against these establishments, at least in the initial stages,” Chief Del Manak told a news conference Wednesday.

Instead, it’s the Community Safety Unit — the provincial government’s new marijuana-law enforcement arm — that will decide when and if to crack down on unsanctioned storefronts. Indications are that not much will happen as licensing applications work their way through the regulatory process.

Manak also let it be known that his department has opted not to use the Dreger 5000 saliva-testing device that Ottawa has touted as the marijuana equivalent of the breathalyzer. It’s cost-prohibitive and bulky, Manak said, and there are questions about its reliability and accuracy — questions defence lawyers are lining up to ask.

Instead, VicPD will rely — as it has done for years when it comes to suspected drugged drivers — on field sobriety tests conducted by trained officers.

“This really is not uncharted territory for us,” Manak said. More officers are being trained to detect drug impairment, though. Expect to see them deployed at roadblocks in Victoria and Esquimalt in the coming weeks.

Motorists who are deemed to be high face immediate roadside penalties similar to those for drinking and driving — fines and licence suspensions that grow in severity with each offence. If contemplating criminal charges, police will take drivers to the hospital for a blood test.

The same scenarios hold true across the border in Saanich, where police are looking at testing a Dreger 5000 (sounds like a video game console, or perhaps a quidditch broom) at some point, but will stick with field sobriety tests (“walk heel to toe and touch your nose”) for now.

Noting that it’s illegal for anyone, driver or passenger, to toke in a car, Manak also said VicPD will launch a Wait Until You Get Home campaign aimed at motorists. “Don’t do it before you drive. Don’t do it when you’re driving.”

As for what police will do with people found smoking dope where they aren’t supposed to, officers will, as has long been the case, have discretion in how to deal with them — except where in the past that meant deciding whether to lay a possession charge (which, frankly, rarely happened in recent years), now they may slap the smoker with a brand new $230 fine.

So, don’t act like a knob. Hold off on your Cheech and Chong routine.

Jack Knox is a born-and-raised Kamloopsian who once worked at the Kamloops Daily News. He is now a columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist. Since joining the Times Colonist in 1988, Jack has worked as a copy editor, city editor, editorial writer and editorial page editor. Prior to that he was an editor and reporter at newspapers in Campbell River, Regina and Kamloops. He won the Jack Webster Foundation’s City Mike Award for Commentator of the Year in 2015.

About Mel Rothenburger (7717 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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