Marijuana retail store in Blaine, Wa., just across the B.C. border. (Black Press files)

B.C. government marijuana stores will compete with private sellers

No sales in liquor or food stores, 30-gram maximum for public possession

B.C.’s ‘grey market’ marijuana growers and retailers will be able to apply for licences to compete with a new chain of government pot stores run by the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth has confirmed plans for a mixed public and private retail model for recreational cannabis, which the federal government has promised to legalize this year. Marijuana will not be sold in liquor stores or other retailers.

“The operating rules governing public and private retail stores will be similar to those currently in place for liquor,” Farnworth announced Monday. “However, to promote responsible use, licensed retailers will not be able to sell cannabis in the same stores as liquor or tobacco. In urban areas, licensed retailers will only be allowed to sell cannabis and cannabis accessories, and will be prohibited from selling other products, such as food, gas, clothing and lottery.”

As with rural agency stores that are licenced to sell liquor as well as other goods, there will be exceptions for small communities where there is not potential to open a stand-alone marijuana store.

Farnworth also confirmed that the possession limit for legal marijuana in public will be 30 grams, restricted to people aged 19 and up. It can only be transported in a vehicle if in a sealed container.

A new offence of drug-affected driving will be created, subject to roadside administrative penalties similar to the fines and licence suspensions now in place for alcohol-impaired driving.

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Stephanie Smith, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, said while she regrets that the government didn’t accept her union’s recommendation to add marijuana sales to public liquor stores, BCGEU members are “well positioned” to staff new stores adjacent to B.C. Liquor Store locations.

Jeff Guignard, executive director of the Association of Beverage Licensees, representing private liquor stores, said he wants to work with municipalities on licensing new stores. Farnworth said a municipality has the right to refuse to licence marijuana sales, and the government stores will have an online sales option for people who can’t buy their marijuana locally.

Sale of marijuana edibles is likely a year away at the earliest, because Ottawa has not yet finalized regulations around sale and packaging, Farnworth said.

Municipalities from Victoria to Nelson have licensed dispensaries ahead of legalization, often with a formality of medical use such as a phone or video interview with an alternative medical practitioner before the sale. Under the new regulations, recreational stores won’t be able to call themselves “dispensaries” any more.

The public safety ministry has posted a series of frequently asked questions for people who wish to apply for a marijuana retail licence.

Courtland Sandover-Sly, chair of the newly formed B.C. Independent Cannabis Association, said he was expecting established marijuana retailers would be allowed to participate, rather than B.C. imposing a government monopoly on retail as is being done in Ontario.

“I think the Ontario model is a travesty and I think it’s doomed to fail,” Sandover-Sly said. “The centralized warehousing of cannabis is an issue that will not play well with the physical nature of cannabis itself.”

Association director Travis Lane, a grower, says he doesn’t expect a crackdown on private retailers in B.C.

“I think what we’re going to see is similar to what’s happened to Victoria and Vancouver, where the province is going to come out with the regulations, they’re going to open up the licensing process, and then they’re going to shut down the business that don’t comply,” Lane said.

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