Legal sales of recreational marijuana will become a reality in Richmond, but according to Councilor Chak Au, leader of a new group, the city is not ready to implement it just yet. The “2018 Marijuana Legalization Concern Group” has requested that the federal government either suspend or postpone the July deadline for cannabis legalization next year, at least until all regulations are ready and in place.
At a press conference that the group held on October 13, Au cautioned, “Once the gate of legalization is opened, it cannot be reverted back. We need to work together now to prevent the social problems that may be caused by legalization later.” The group wants all three tiers of government to meet its list of over 20 requirements before legalization begins.
The 2018 Marijuana Legalization Concern Group also encourages all residents in Richmond to fill out the provincial cannabis online survey, which ends on November 1. It has also launched an online petition to delay the legalization date. As Au explains, “We hope for everyone to pay attention to this issue.” Thus far, the petition has collected over 3,000 signatures.
Au reiterated that, “Marijuana legalization is not far away from you and I. You may not consume or grow it, but your neighbors may do so, and your kids’ classmates may access it and bring it to school.” Among the group’s requirements is a request to increase the minimum age for legal consumption to 21-years, ban private cultivation at home, and prohibit cannabis products in the form of drink and food.
“Medical evidence shows having marijuana at an early age will disturb the brain’s development,” Au explained. “And growing cannabis at home or putting it into food and drinks may result in children consuming it by mistake. We ask the governments to meet all the requirements before cannabis is officially legalized.”
Some of the group’s other listed requirements include wanting the provincial governments to give landlords the legal right to prohibit tenants from growing or consuming weed on their properties, and it also asks that recreational pot be sold exclusively at designated locations. However, another group advocating marijuana legalization claims that Au’s group is overreacting.
Dana Larsen, spokesperson of Sensible B. C., the pro-pot group, says, “We are more than ready, and have been ready for years. People can make the decision whether to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol at ages 18 and 19, but do not have the ability to decide if they want to smoke cannabis? That sounds absurd to me.”
Larsen argued that exposure to fresh marijuana plants will not risk children’s health prior to their drying and consumption, “just like other regular plants.” However, he did agree that cannabis could pose a risk for children in the form of edibles, and that such items should carry mandatory labeling laws. “People are overly worried,” Larsen explained. “Once legalization happens, they will realize everything is fine.”
Despite legalization of cannabis being the jurisdiction of the federal government, both municipalities and provinces have authority to draft their own regulatory and distributary laws. For example, the province can choose its own retail model for pot sales, its own rules for public consumption, and its own laws for driving under the influence of marijuana.
The government of British Columbia can also decide to adjust the minimum age for consumption, make limits for personal possession stricter, and even reduce the number of plants adults can legally grow at home, which, under federal Bill C-45, is currently four. On Monday, the City Council of Richmond approved a staff report on legalization, which it will submit to the provincial government, along with a survey response and a letter.
At the general committee meeting, Councilor Bill McNulty aired his views, “I strongly criticize the federal government’s process of legalizing marijuana. Where does it protect me? When the house next door hosts a pot party, what can I do? Do I have to sit there and smell the weed until 11 p.m., and call the police to come tell them to stop?”
Along with other councilors, McNulty agreed to “strongly disagree” with the city’s response to the survey, which is to legalize marijuana, and promptly demanded that municipalities make their rules stricter. The city said in the report that it preferred a government model of distribution “to eliminate the role of organized crime.”
The report asked the province to permit rulemaking for personal cultivation by local governments, as well as give them authority to use land-use regulations to control locations of retail outlets. The province received a request from the city to share revenues made from cannabis sales, and it suggested stricter laws for public consumption of pot than those currently in effect for alcohol and tobacco.
Additionally, the city gave its endorsement to make the minimum age for consumption 19-years old. It agreed with the 30-gram limit the federal government places on personal possession of dried marijuana and its prohibition of possession among the youth. The report said that the goal is to “ensure Richmond continues to be a safe community.”
The provincial government says that it is putting all effort into meeting the July 2018 deadline for recreational sales to start. “We are on a very tight timeframe because of the federal government’s timeline for legalization next July,” said Minister of British Columbia Public Safety and Solicitor General, Mike Farnworth.
He told Richmond News, “We have asked for more time, other provinces have asked for more time, but the federal government is sticking to their target.” Farnworth says the cabinet will begin its decision-making process based on the data it receives before November 1, and that a provincial cannabis act will likely be ready in February or March next year.
“The survey certainly will help shape our decision,” explained Farnworth. “It is important to see how the local government wants retail in their communities, because what works in Vancouver may not work in Richmond.” With parties across the province having different voices on cannabis issues, he says their main goal is “to keep cannabis out of the hands of children, and to get organized crime out of the cannabis industry.”
Farnworth noted that the British Columbia government has not made any legislative decisions regarding marijuana yet. Joe Peschisolido, a Steveston-Richmond East Member of Parliament, said in an interview with News on Wednesday that the federal government would not give legalization the go ahead until it is ready. “The concerned group is right; things are not ready yet, we are still in the process,” he said.
Peschisolido said that the federal government is working with all the provincial governments throughout the country to come up with a working system. He said, “Our view is that there is a seven-billion-dollar Canada-wide illegal market for marijuana. We want to strictly regulate and control the sale of it, and we want to send out the message that it is wrong for children to have marijuana.”
The bill will return to Parliament for detailed debate. Until then, Richmond residents must wait for the House of Commons to dissect the legislation at a meta-level within the next growing season.