An unlikely ally is fighting for BC’s small, craft cannabis growers- the BC Conservatives- who are demanding that the provincial government allow a free and open cannabis market.
In a Feb. 7th news release, Scott Anderson, the BC Conservatives’ interim leader, hit back at the new cannabis retail rules released by BC’s NDP government that hands the Liquor Distribution Branch a monopoly on wholesale distribution, which forces all non-medical retailers to get their cannabis from the LDB.
Mr. Anderson said, “We will make every effort to allow small scale “craft growers” to compete with large growers on a level playing field,” saying that, “It’s bad enough that the GreeNDP has started a trade war with Alberta that threatens our wine industry, but now it wants to double down and kill the province’s cannabis industry as well.”
He went on, “In keeping with our philosophy as a free enterprise party, the BC Conservatives will allow and encourage… small entrepreneurs to compete in any distribution and growth model”.
Conservatives fighting for free enterprise (and votes)
The appeals for free enterprise in BC’s cannabis retail system can also be seen as a calculated move to position the BC Conservatives as a business-friendly party to hopefully steal support from the BC Liberals, who are usually BC’s Big Business party, having received $30 million in donations from its top corporate donors from 2005-2017.
The Conservatives are also hoping the increased competition from allowing free enterprise in BC’s non-medical cannabis retail system will help keep prices low, which would combat the black market as well through reduced profit incentives.
This approach runs contrary to their federal counterparts, who have suggested they might even delay passage of Bill C-45 due to “rigorous debate”, but it’s a sound strategic move as BC is Canada’s most cannabis-friendly provinces- polls have shown that up to 79% of British Columbians support legalization. Trying to stop legalization in BC would be political suicide, although it’s worth noting that BC’s more rural areas tend to skew more conservative.
Whether or not BC voters can divorce this message from the anti-cannabis approach of the federal Conservative party remains to be seen- the next provincial election is over three years away, after all- but it seems doubtful that this single issue will be enough to sway BC over to the Conservatives, who have not won an election in BC since 1928.
What else do the Conservatives want?
The other points outlined in the Conservatives’ news release are included below:
1. Create and advance a robust education plan to alert the citizens of BC to the serious risks of both primary and secondhand cannabis smoke, and in particular on developing children and teens.
2. Put restrictions on consumption of recreational cannabis.
This is interesting because the Conservatives say their laws for public cannabis consumption will be similar to the ones for alcohol, which could end up being more strict than the NDP, who have said they will allow cannabis consumption anywhere that smokingtobacco is permitted- but given BC’s strict rules on tobacco, that doesn’t leave you a whole lot of options either way.
If the Conservatives are treating public consumption of cannabis like alcohol, one might wonder if this is an implicit endorsement of cannabis lounges (much like how we’re allowed to drink at bars, but not on the street).
3. Give municipalities the power to decide when, where, and if cannabis can be sold within municipal jurisdictions.
4. The BC Conservatives will set the age limit for legal purchase and consumption at 19.
In an ideal world, Mr. Anderson would set the age at 25, but he admits that having different ages for alcohol and cannabis “would increase enforcement complexity to the point of unworkability”.
5.Increase penalties for illegal distribution
This point depends on their definition of illegal distribution, which the news release does not specify. Would you be facing prison time for illegal distribution if you gave a friend some of your personal, home-grown cannabis? We don’t know yet, but increasing penalties is going in the opposite direction of legalization.