B.C. pot rules headed in right direction, Morris says

Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris said the provincial government has made a good first step on regulating recreational marijuana use, but the issue is complex and a lot of work remains to be done.

On Tuesday, the NDP government unveiled plans which will set the minimum age for marijuana use at 19, see recreational marijuana distributed through the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch and pledged to develop a retail model with both public and private sellers (see related story).

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"I'm glad to see they've arranged for a point for the distribution," Morris said. "There needs to be strict controls who whoever grows it. They need to control the quality... and the THC content of the drug. Public health is one of the big concerns we had."

Having a government agency act as the sole wholesale purchaser and distributor of recreational marijuana will allow more control over who is producing the drug and how it is grown, Morris said.

Morris, who worked on the issue as the former minister of public safety and solicitor general in the previous Liberal government, said there are 18 separate pieces of provincial legislation affected by the federal government's move to legalize recreational pot use.

Although the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch will act as the wholesaler, Morris said B.C. Liquor Stores and private cold beer and wine stores shouldn't be the point of sale to the public. Both the federal and provincial governments heard concerns from addictions experts that alcohol and marijuana shouldn't be sold in the same locations.

"I hope we see a completely separate store front," Morris said.

Another major concern is making sure organized crime gangs, which currently grow and sell recreational marijuana, are driven out of business, he said.

"We have to ensure the price is kept as low as possible to discourage the black market," Morris said. "One of the concerns I have is whatever we do, particularly in the private sector, we have to keep them feeling safe from intimidation and blackmail (by gangs)."

Another issue yet to be resolved will be when and where people can consume marijuana products.

"From a smoking perspective, the same regulations are going to be in place as for tobacco smoking," Morris said. "Medical research has shown there is as many harmful chemicals in (secondhand) marijuana smoke as in tobacco."

But regulating the consumption of edible marijuana products - including dealing with issues like whether bars be able to serve them - is complex, Morris said, and has caused problems in many other jurisdictions which have legalized marijuana.

'They've got a lot of work ahead of them," Morris said.

City alters pot zoning

The provincial announcement came the day after Prince George city council revised its zoning regulations regarding the production of medical marijuana.

On April 13, 2015, city council adopted a bylaw which regulated medical marijuana production facilities as a land use within city limits, city planning and development manager Ian Wells wrote in a report to city council. The bylaw was compliant with federal law at the time, but a Supreme Court ruling in June 2015 overturned part of the federal regulations.

The regulations were repealed, and in Aug. 24, 2016 created a new set of regulations governing Agricultural Land Commission rules for medical marijuana production.

"This change specifically identified that activities designated as a farm use includes the production of marihuana in accordance with the relevant federal regulations," Wells wrote in his report. "ALC regulation indicates that designated farm uses (i.e. the production of marihuana) must not be prohibited 'by any local government bylaw.'"

The city's previous regulations required a one kilometre setback from residential property and correctional facilities for medical marijuana producers in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Those were removed, and instead medical marijuana production was designated as agriculture, intensive impact, such as mushroom farms, poultry and livestock barns.

Under those rules, there is a 30-metre minimum setback from property lines, a 150m setback from parks and schools, and a 60m setback from non-agricultural residential uses unless some form of natural buffer is used.

"This only impacts the agricultural zone. It doesn't apply to the city's industrial zoning," Wells said. "We don't anticipate this having any impacts."

Wells said he doesn't anticipate any medical marijuana producers looking to locate in the city's agricultural areas.

"To make this distinct, this is specifically to do with medical marijuana, not to do with recreational marijuana, which will be legalized by the federal government next year," Coun. Garth Frizzell said.

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