Wide-ranging views on setup of pot shops

For the past decade, surveys have consistently showed that Canadians, and British Columbians, support legalizing marijuana. Centre-left minded voters were more likely to say they have enjoyed cannabis recreationally in the past, and some centre-right minded voters saw an opportunity to tax a sought-after resource.

In spite of this high level of support, the road to legalization has been complex. In specific cities, bylaws related to cannabis commercialization have not been enforced. Just three years ago, more than 100 so-called dispensaries were selling marijuana and marijuana-related products in Vancouver alone. The dispensaries were able to acquire a business licence from the city, even though selling non-medicinal marijuana was illegal.

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Now, with legalization here, existing dispensaries need to apply to the provincial government for a business licence. The process is long. On the day the legalization was enacted, there was only one B.C. Cannabis Store operating. It is located in Kamloops.

The current state of affairs calls for a detailed look at the way British Columbians would react to the location of pot shops. A survey conducted this month by Research Co. shows some staggering differences.

Across the province, seven in 10 British Columbians (70 per cent) say they approve of establishing marijuana stores in their municipality. The level of support drops to 56 per cent when residents are asked about a pot shop that will be doing business in their neighbourhood.

When asked whether they approve or disapprove of a marijuana store located a block away from their home, the numbers tighten dramatically. Across the province, 50 per cent of residents say they approve of a pot shop located that close to their dwelling, but 48 per cent disapprove.

There is a gender divide: a majority of men (54 per cent) see no problem with a pot store near their home; a majority of women (51 per cent) eschew the idea.

Age also plays a role, with British Columbians aged 18 to 34 voicing the highest level of support for a pot shop near their home (60 per cent). Their older counterparts are not convinced, with approval dropping to 48 per cent among residents aged 35 to 54, and to 44 per cent among those over the age of 55.

In Metro Vancouver, where many stores located in specific cities were able to offer marijuana under the guise of medicinal treatments, there is a complete split: 48 per cent of residents approve of a pot shop near their home and 48 per cent disapprove of it. On Vancouver Island, disapproval reaches 52 per cent.

Political allegiance also plays a role in shaping views on the future location of pot shops. A sizable majority of British Columbians who voted for the BC New Democratic Party in the last provincial election (60 per cent) have no qualms about a marijuana store being located a block from their home. BC Green Party voters are staunchly divided (50 per cent approve, 49 per cent disapprove) and BC Liberal voters are more likely to object (55 per cent).

The last layer of analysis is ethnicity. While 54 per cent of British Columbians of European descent approve of having a pot shop nearby, the proportion drops dramatically to 33 per cent among those of East Asian descent. East Asian British Columbians have consistently voiced displeasure about marijuana and its legalization, so this finding is not a surprise.

It is evident that the legalization of cannabis will not go as smoothly as originally envisioned. The process of granting permits and business licences needs to be clear, and communities must be allowed to have their say about where marijuana will be sold.

There are more than 100 applications for BC Cannabis Stores that are waiting to be processed. The prospect of marijuana being sold close to homes is not particularly thrilling for all British Columbians. All levels of government would be wise to consult and engage with a public that is deeply divided, not on legalization, but on location.

-- Mario Canseco is president of Research Co. His column appears exclusively in Glacier Media publications

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