ROBERT BARRON CITIZEN
Sophie Reid said she knew the legalization of marijuana in Canada was inevitable.
But now that the federal Liberal government has finally announced plans to legalize and regulate marijuana in Canada by the spring of 2017, Reid is not sure what it will mean for her and her business.
Reid is part owner of the Cowichan Valley Access Centre, one of two medical marijuana dispensaries currently operating in the Cowichan Valley.
The other is WarmLand Cannabis in Mill Bay.
“I’m excited about the government’s announcement,” Reid said. “(Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau said he would invest in the middle class, and that’s what we are, so we see this as a fulfillment of a promise.”
Reid said she began operations on Allenby Road near Duncan, located within an unincorporated electoral area within the Cowichan Valley Regional District where business licences aren’t required, last summer.
She and her partner decided to set up shop there after being refused a business licence to open in downtown Duncan.
Reid said it’s “hard to say” what will become of CVAC as the government and nation move toward legalization, but she hopes the authorities will allow the business to stay operating until final decisions are made.
“We are allowed to operate under current zoning bylaws, we don’t sell to minors and we pay our taxes,” she said.
“Even the police that I’ve talked to are open to us being here.”
The Liberal government will launch a task force within the next few weeks to closely examine and evaluate every aspect of their goal to legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana within the year, as well as give the government advice on designing the new system.
“We will task them with a very specific set of questions around how it will be produced, where it will be accessed and sold and around questions of taxation,” Health Minister Jane Philpott said last week.
Chris, who did not provide his last name, owns two “bong” shops in Duncan that cater to providing pipes, papers and other paraphernalia used by marijuana users.
He also said he’s looking forward to the legalization of pot in Canada, but he has no intention of supplying the actual drugs in his stores.
“I expect that once marijuana is legalized, it will be sold in every cold beer and wine store, so everyone else will be wasting their time,” Chris said.
“But I believe that business in my stores will increase substantially.
“Many people won’t try it now because it’s illegal, but the day it becomes legal, more people will try it and they’ll need the products I sell.”
Dr. Paul Hassleback, the medical health officer for the mid-Vancouver Island area, has been visiting municipal councils in the Cowichan Valley and across Vancouver Island in recent weeks talking about the dangers and costs of substance abuse, including marijuana.
He said that pot provides a few proven health benefits, but also provides health risks.
“Compared to other prescription drugs, we’re not finding a long list of medical benefits from marijuana,” Hasselback said.
“I compare marijuana to alcohol, in that’s it’s not used mainly for its medical components.”
Duncan Coun. Sharon Jackson said she believes the city will adapt to the new legal regime well.
“Over the next year, we have to have conversations with our merchants and citizens so we can get their feedback on how we should proceed,” she said.
“For example, should we treat the dispensaries like liquor stores and have only so many with rules around how far apart they can be? I think most Canadians will accept the legalization of marijuana as long as there are rules, like it shouldn’t be sold right next to an elementary school.”
Jon Lefebure, the mayor of the Municipality of North Cowichan and the chairman of the board at the CVRD, said the sale of pot is still considered illegal, so North Cowichan doesn’t currently hand out business licences to pot dispensaries.
Lefebure also said last week’s announcement will lead to “significant changes” in the regulatory regimes governing pot operations within the year.
“My personal opinion is that the so-called war on drugs has been an abject failure and we have to try a new approach,” he said.
Mike Coleman, a retired lawyer and former Duncan mayor, has dealt with many cases involving marijuana in his career.
He said he believes the federal government’s timetable of legalizing pot within the year is “doable” but there are many contentious issues that must be dealt with first.
“It’s easy for the federal government to legalize it and send out instructions as to how it wants the process to proceed, but the devil in the details,” Coleman said.
“For example, some people are calling for expunging the criminal records of those convicted of possession and releasing those who are in jail for the crime, but many people in jail for possession have also been involved in major drug dealing as well, so it can become very complicated.”
Then there’s the multitude of grow-ops operating in B.C. and across the country that smuggle their products into states in the U.S. where pot is still illegal.
“There’s a tremendous market there that (the growers) may not want to give up easily, so there’s a lot of issues that must be dealt with as we move forward,” Coleman said, adding he even expects laws like no smoking in public could be challenged by pot smokers who want to celebrate legalization, which would mean they are breaking other laws.
“There’s a lot of anxiety to get this done, but it’s important that we focus on getting it right, rather than how fast we can do it,” he said.