Marijuana legislation raising more questions

Shuswap elected officials and dispensaries concerned with planned summer roll-out.

As Canadian senators drag out debate over a bill to legalize recreational marijuana by July, concerns in the Shuswap suggest the summer deadline is too soon.

Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, remains at second reading in the Senate as Conservative and NDP senators challenge details of the bill while seeking amendments.

If the bill passes, adults 18 and older would be allowed to legally buy cannabis and cannabis oil from a provincially regulated retailers, as well as possess up to 30 grams of dried cannabis. The federal government will address other cannabis products, such as edibles, sometime after regulation for production and sale come into effect.

North-Okanagan Shuswap MP Mel Arnold is not happy with the way the bill is being rushed by the Liberals, saying there are a number of questions and considerations that must first be addressed. For starters, he says enforcement agencies and municipalities are simply not ready for a summer roll-out.

“In speaking to enforcement agency representatives, they simply don’t have the resources to do the training that is necessary in time and they don’t have the available manpower in order for someone to do the training… They’re also short dollars to get this done,” said Arnold.

Meanwhile, Arnold says municipalities aren’t yet sure how they’re going to manage the dispensaries and distribution.

“They’re looking for assistance with developing their bylaws and guidelines because they’re having to put resources into this and, at this point, they haven’t seen anything coming to them to monitor it.”

Arnold adds municipalities are currently being left out of revenue sharing from taxation related to cannabis sales. This has B.C. municipalities clamouring for a percentage.

“We’re lobbying because the federal government is going to get the lion’s share, the provinces are going to get the rest,” said Sicamous Mayor Terry Rysz at a recent council meeting. “The responsibility lies on municipalities to deal with it, so we’re feeling municipalities should get at least 50 per cent of the revenue share made from cannabis when it becomes legalized in July.”

Meanwhile, Arnold says existing medical marijuana dispensaries are wondering, “if they’re going to be able to continue to operate or if they’re going to be competitive with the new system.”

Christopher MacMillan, a manager with Salmon Arm dispensary Starbuds, concurs. He explains the current taxation of medical cannabis, as well as the federal government’s proposed excise tax of a dollar per gram, puts dispensaries at a disadvantage. He argues there should be no tax on cannabis prescribed by doctors just as there’s no tax on prescription pharmaceuticals.

MacMillan has other concerns related to the bill, such as being required to carry recreational-use product from a small number of federally licensed producers located elsewhere in the country, as opposed to sourcing from legal local, knowledgeable producers. He also says product testing facilities are few and far between.

“In my opinion, it’s going to be a big mess,” said MacMillan of the bill, should it come into effect this summer. “We’re going to do our best and follow what regulations we have to and really push so that it’s fair for everybody because it needs to be that way.

Other concerns Arnold has with the bill revolve around education and access. He says there’s currently no education component to warn Canadians of the risks involved with recreational use.

“We know that science and medical profession have identified that it can effect the developing brain in youth up to the age of 25. And they’ve gone far below that with the minimum age use,” said Arnold.

In addition, Arnold says the bill, if it continues as is, will likely fail to achieve its key goal of improving public safety and deterring criminal activity.

“Government isn’t known for being efficient at producing anything, so for something to be produced under government regulation, and then distributed and priced and then taxed, all under government supervision and tax creation, I find it hard to believe that someone thinks there will not be a market, a black market out there still,” said Arnold.

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