VANCOUVER - British Columbia residents are being asked for their thoughts on how the provincial government can best protect children, maintain road safety and keep criminals out of the recreational marijuana industry once it becomes legal next summer.
The province launched a five-week public consultation process Monday, which will include reaching out to local governments, First Nations and the marijuana industry.
Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said while the federal timeline of legalizing pot on July 1 is tight, it is important to make sure the public has a chance to offer input.
"The best public policy isn't imposed from up above. The best public policy is made when there's a sense that people understand the questions ... and they feel they've had a say," he told reporters Monday at the annual convention of the Union of B.C. Municipalities.
The consultation process will last until Nov. 1 to allow the government time to draft regulations ahead of the spring session of the legislature, which must happen in order to have a law in place by Canada Day, Farnworth added.
Federal legislation has yet to be finalized, but the provinces will have the power to regulate the retail sale of marijuana and to upgrade traffic safety laws to protect people on the roads from cannabis-impaired drivers.
Municipalities have been waiting for details of a marijuana plan, especially in Vancouver where local politicians have struggled to regulate pot shops for more than a year.
Coun. Kerry Jang said Monday that only about a dozen marijuana dispensaries and compassion clubs have received business licences, and the city has handed out more than 50 injunctions against wayward operators.
Victoria has also taken steps to require dispensaries to obtain business licenses and is seeking an injunction to shut down one pot shop for bylaw violations, including consumption on site.
Farnworth said some elements of the provincial regulatory framework will have to be universal, such as the distribution model and the minimum age of consumption, but it must also give municipalities room to manoeuvre based on the wishes of local residents.
"I don't see any reason at all why we have to have a one-size-fits-all approach in terms of retail distribution in British Columbia," he said.
Jang agreed, adding the province will benefit from the experiences of Vancouver and Victoria in regulating the industry.
He supports the government's outreach plans.
"My initial response when I talked with minister Farnworth was, 'Gee, pinch me. Wake me up. Is this really happening?' " Jang said.
"For how many years now municipalities have been ignored at the federal and the provincial level? To find out we're having a full public consultation, not just with the municipalities but also a cross-section of British Columbians, is very, very important. And it's the right way to go."
Provinces have put pressure on the federal government to push back the July 1 timeline, echoing public health and safety concerns raised by police agencies and youth health experts.
Ontario became the first province to release details of its plans to regulate cannabis, which will impose a minimum age of 19 for consumption, restrict sales to certain government liquor stores and limit pot use solely to private residences.
Alberta is partially through its own public consultation, while Quebec's wrapped up earlier this month.
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