Marijuana is grown for medical use, with production set to expand as recreational use is legalized. (Black Press files)

B.C. ‘will be ready’ for marijuana legalization

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says some stores open by Oct. 17

At least some retail marijuana stores will be ready to open in B.C. on Oct. 17, when recreational sales become legal under federal law, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says.

Farnworth wasn’t able to say Wednesday how many private and public stores will be opening in B.C. as a result of federal legalization that passed into law this week, because both private and provincially owned stores must apply for provincial and local approval first.

“I don’t know the exact number of applications that we’ve received yet,” Farnworth said in an interview. “I know there was considerable interest. What I do know is that come legalization date, you’re not going to see 250 stores, whether government or legal. It is something that is going to ramp up over time.”

The B.C. committed to a mix of public and private stores when it passed its enabling legislation this spring, to prepare for the federal law. Farnworth said he is pleased that the effective date was delayed until mid-October.

“We had pushed for a later legalization date,” he said. “July was just unrealistic.”

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The province passed several legal changes of its own, including the extension of police powers to impose a 90-day administrative driving prohibition for drivers found to be impaired by drugs. B.C. also matched its “zero tolerance for alcohol” rule for drivers in the graduated licensing system, to apply to drug impairment as well.

Some quasi-medical private stores have received local business licences in urban areas, and some communities have told the province they are only interested in government stores run by the Liquor Distribution Branch. Municipal councils can also opt to have no retail outlets.

The province has given the LDB a monopoly on wholesale distribution and online sales. Farnworth said the province’s wholesale markup on recreational marijuana has not yet been determined, and the only taxes applied are sales taxes and a federal excise tax.

The lesson of other jurisdictions such as Oregon is to keep taxes low enough that legal sales take over the market from illegal providers, he said.

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