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MCDONALD: City councillors better think it through before they take on cannabis culture

October 27, 2017 - 1:08 PM

A province-wide survey of individuals, organizations and municipalties about how B.C. should handle the legalization of marijuana is due next week and city councillors in the Interior will get a chance to craft their positions for their towns and cities.

How they will collectively respond remains to be seen but if they are considering something like what has been proposed in Richmond, B.C. — no dispensaries, no public consumption, no indoor growing, pretty much no nothing — best know that’s not going to fly here.

The province has crafted a draft position based on federal guidelines and its own considerations which presumably take into account that B.C. is where Canada’s version of cannabis culture first emerged, decades before this attempt at legalization.

Put another way, there are a whole lot of people in B.C. who have been smoking joints behind pub dumpsters, eating pot brownies or hitting the bong in their living room for a long time.

I’m not talking about organized criminals, but regular folk who have been been growing their own for years without burning down the house and are well used to dodging the cops, keeping their stash under wraps and zipping out to meet their dealer in a parking lot.

This culture is firmly established and doesn’t have much of a problem with flouting regulations, especially if they're onerous and illogical, which is the real danger in letting municipalities add in their own rules — municipal elections will be held just a few months after legalization and it will be tempting for some candidates to get tough on marijuana.

Another danger here is the cops, newly energized with new laws to enforce, will try to crack down hard on offenders here and everywhere else. We already lead the country in marijuana infractions, so it’s not hard to see the Mounties going all out.

As it stands, parts of the federal position are already pointing straight to a regulatory nightmare — possession in public of no more than 30 grams, four home-grown plants no taller than one metre and the ability to share 30 grams with someone else.

Are the cops going be running around with scales now, checking baggies to see if they comply? And if someone is a gram or two over, are they going to jail?

What about growing pot at home? How are they going to enforce a one metre minimum height limit and to what end? Generations of B.C. growers have been growing short, high-volume plants in crawl spaces and attics.

Are the Mounties going to replace the yellow stripe down the side of their pants with a yardstick and bust into people’s houses? And based on what? Will a neighbour be able to bring the cops down on a neighbour with a bylaw complaint?

And how are they going to stop home-growers from selling their crop? No drug dealing going on here, officer, I simply shared my bag of weed with him and he shared the contents of his wallet with me.

Also alarming is the zeal with which some municipalities seem to want to control home-growing, by adding burdensome requirements for inspection and certification.

Do-it-yourself home renovators can legally walk into a hardware store and purchase everything they need to completely rewire their house. There’s no need to show a license or even demonstrate basic competency at electrical work, yet no one asks them for a permit. The city already has problems controlling illegal suites; I can't see them doing a better job here.

In any case, how is this any different from a home-grower adding in a breaker and plugging in a grow light on their own? If there is a danger, then why aren’t home-renovators more closely monitored?

Taken to its extreme, the new regulatory regime could end up making pot heads yearn for the old days. But make no mistake, they will adapt to whatever form the laws and regulations take.

They’ve already been facing the threat of fines and imprisonment for decades and have seen the rules change before.

Councillors may be tempted to look tough by adding to the guidelines — they have the right to do so — but they might want to wait and see how the Supreme Court challenges to the new law turn out. There will be many, as pot activists have already vowed.

I like to view the federal and provincial government’s guidelines as the opening position in a negotiation because I think we’re going to see ongoing changes to the legislation as it adapts to reality.

Councillors would do well to consider all of this before taking on cannabis culture.

— John McDonald is a long-time reporter, editor and photographer from the Central Okanagan with a strong curiosity about local affairs. You can reach him at jmcdonald@infonews.ca.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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