B.C. VIEWS: This is your province on weed

Marijuana is touted as a miracle drug in an unregulated market, with liquor stores touted for recreational sales

Marijuana dispensaries have popped up in urban areas, offering exotically named products with claimed health benefits. Legalization of recreational use is next.

With unlicensed marijuana dispensaries popping up in urban areas and thousands of unregulated medical licences for home growing still in legal limbo, the Trudeau government is starting work on its promise to legalize recreational use.

Marijuana was a media darling in the recent election, but meeting in Vancouver with provincial ministers last week, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott found herself preoccupied with issues deemed more urgent.

These include shifting our post-war acute hospital model to community primary care, tackling aboriginal health care needs, pooling pharmaceutical purchases to slow rising costs, and meeting an urgent Supreme Court of Canada directive to legalize assisted dying.

At the closing news conference in Vancouver, Philpott was asked how recreational marijuana should be sold. Licensed medical growers want exclusive rights do it by mail as permitted by the Harper government, another measure forced by our high court. That would shut out the rash of supposedly medical storefronts, which city halls in Vancouver and elsewhere imagine they can regulate.

Philpott said the question is “premature” and federal-provincial justice ministers were dealing with it at their meeting. Ottawa will have a “task force” too.

Vancouver descended into a pot store free-for-all due to benign neglect from council and police, and Victoria isn’t far behind. Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang, a rare voice of reason in the Big Smoke, has protested dispensaries using street hawkers to attract young buyers, and pot stores setting up near schools.

Other communities, more aware of their limitations, have resisted issuing business licences. One recent proposal in the Victoria suburb of View Royal came from a fellow who insisted marijuana extract had cured his cancer. This is typical of claims that proliferate on the Internet, and is one of many warning signs about dispensaries that put up red cross signs to sell pot products with exotic names.

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake was more forthcoming a few days earlier, responding to a Vancouver reporter who judged marijuana more interesting than his just-announced plan to hire 1,600 more nurses by the end of March.

Lake noted that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is keen to sell marijuana through the province’s monopoly liquor stores. B.C.’s government liquor store union has also endorsed this idea, forming an unlikely alliance with non-union private stores to get in on the action.

“There are public health officials that I’ve talked to who say that the co-location of marijuana and liquor sales is not advisable from a public health perspective,” Lake said. “I think whatever we do it has to be highly regulated, quality control has to be excellent and above all we must protect young people.”

Yes, liquor stores check ID. But the notion that marijuana might be sold next to beer and vodka in government stores deserves sober second thought, and serious scientific work of the kind that has shown damage to developing brains from teenage marijuana use.

Of course all of this urban hand-wringing over pot stores ignores the de facto legalization that has existed across B.C. for decades.

The Nelson Star had a funny story last week about a local woman’s discovery on Google Earth. Zooming in on area mountains, one finds not only the Purcell landmark Loki Peak, but also Weed Peak, Grow Op Peak, Cannabis Peak and Hydroponic Peak.

Whatever the source of this cyber-prank, it could also be applied to other regions of B.C.

For the record, I’ll restate my long-standing position that legalization is the only logical answer. I’ll say the same about other drugs that drive most B.C. crime, but that’s a subject for another day.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc


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