With the federal government doubling down on promise to legalize pot by Canada Day 2018, B.C. cities want to make sure they’re ready.
In their lead resolution, to be debated at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver Sept. 27, the UBCM executive is asking for federal and provincial governments to consult, share revenue and respect local government jurisdiction.
Legalizing marijuana was a key election promise for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has reiterated his commitment to the cause. Two bills have since been tabled in the House of Commons; Bill C-45, which when passed would legalize cannabis, and Bill C-46, which would strengthen drug-impaired driving laws.
A federal task force came came out with a list of recommendations in late 2016. Those recommendations included selling marijuana in separate retail store, rather than with alcohol or tobacco, four plants up to 100 cm tall themselves for personal use and a 30-gram limit for personal possession.
In early 2017, Bill Blair, a Toronto police chief turned parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, went on a cross-country tour to ask municipalities, educators and police about their views on Trudeau’s legalization plans. That feedback, he noted, would go back to Ottawa to help shape how legal pot will look in Canada.
For its part, B.C. has kept its options for regulating marijuana open.
Going into meetings with federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and provincial ministers, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said he was focused on distribution and pricing.
“Distribution is key to that, whether you have a central distribution location, for example the Liquor Distribution Branch, or multiple distribution options,” Farnworth said.
“When [Finance Minister] Carole James and myself were down in Washington and Oregon, one thing that was very clear is that you cannot set the tax rate so high that it encourages the black market.”
Municipal governments have expressed concerns on how much of that tax revenue will trickle down into their own coffers.
A UBCM survey of 57 local government noted that “arguably the most cited overarching concern was the potential for a transfer of responsibilities to local governments without accompanying funding from other orders of government.”
The resolution asks the federal government ensure that some of the tax money from legal pot go local governments. That comes amidst worries raised by cities that their police departments, which already take up 30 per cent on average of municipal budgets, will bear the burden of any increased enforcement.
Much of the worry appears to come from what municipalities see as a lack of communication. Just over four-fifths of respondents said that they had yet to participate in any formal consultation process.
Although the province issues a formal response to all UBCM resolutions, they do not have any binding authority.
– with files from Tom Fletcher and The Canadian Press