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Documents Show B.C. Ministry of Justice Determined to Stay Out of Cannabis Debate

Documents released in response to a freedom-of-information request show the government of British Columbia is going out of their way to avoid taking positions on cannabis.

In 83 pages of issue notes and government correspondence—many of which were withheld or redacted—B.C. Ministry of Justice officials repeatedly state that marijuana is none of the province’s business.

“The legislative responsibility for controlled drugs and substances, including marijuana, lies with the federal government,” reads one line that appears frequently with slight variations.

“If medical marijuana businesses, including dispensaries, are operating contrary to municipal bylaw, it is up to the municipality to deal with any contraventions,” reads another typical talking point.

However, the provincial attorney general could order all provincial police to take a low priority stance toward cannabis, much like Vancouver has.

Kash Heed, former B.C. Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, suggested the reason the Liberal government has avoided the issue is because its members remain divided on cannabis. “There is unfortunately no political win, in their opinion, for them to come out and support this,” he said. “But there is an avenue.”

Despite higher tolerance for storefronts and a laid-back perception, the number of cannabis-related offences are up. According to the Vancouver Police Department’s 2013 annual report, the police recorded 1,048 offences related to cannabis, up from 864 in 2012.