B.C. Conservatives support free-market sourcing of cannabis

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      The B.C. Conservative party is hoping that its approach to cannabis legalization will attract attention from voters.

      On the one hand, interim party leader Scott Anderson is calling for a tough and aggressive educational approach to alert the public to "serious risks of both primary and secondhand cannabis smoke".

      On the other hand, he opposes B.C.'s plan to give the Liquor Distribution Branch a monopoly over the wholesale side of the cannabis business, just as it has a monopoly over wholesale liquor sales.

      "In keeping with our philosophy as a free enterprise party, the B.C. Conservatives will allow and encourage, within a tight regulatory framework, small entrepreneurs to compete in any distribution and growth model, regardless of whether the provincial alcohol distribution model is adopted," Anderson said in a news release. "Further, we will make every effort to allow small scale 'craft growers' to compete with large growers on a level playing field.

      "Competition helps drive down prices, increase efficiencies and create jobs, and we encourage all of those things," Anderson continued. "And if we want to put the black market out of business and keep cannabis out of the hands of underage kids, it is crucial to successfully compete with it in terms of price."

      He also emphasized the importance of enabling small-scale craft growers to compete with large growers on a level playing field.

      The Conservatives believe that small growers would provide product for smaller specialty retail establishments. 

      That's an alternative approach to the NDP government's requirement that all nonmedical cannabis stores will have to buy product directly from government sources.

      Solicitor General Mike Farnworth thinks it's important for the Liquor Distribution Branch to be in charge of wholesale distribution of cannabis to nonmedical retail outlets.

      Liquor Distribution Branch prepares for online sales

      The LDB is also investigating e-commerce approaches to make it easier for customers who might have difficulty reaching retail outlets.

      "We're excited about planning and building online sales and a new retail network of stand-alone, public cannabis stores. But it's important to keep in mind that this won't happen overnight," LDB general manager and CEO Blain Lawson said in a news release earlier this week. "First, we have to establish a wholesale distribution system and prepare its operations for when the federal government is expected to legalize cannabis later this year. The public retail model will be phased in over time."

      Under a plan unveiled by Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch will license and monitor nonmedical cannabis retail sales. Public and private stores will operate under similar rules, including not being colocated with liquor or pharmaceutical products.

      That rubs the B.C. Conservatives the wrong way. And its interim leader has accused the "GreeNDP" of believing in "huge government solutions and stifling regulation".

      "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," Anderson said. "The economic mismanagement of the GreeNDP has entered the realm of parody."

      At the same time, the B.C. Conservatives maintain that there's "strong evidence" that cannabis use "can negatively impact" brain development in young people, "leading to poor performance in school, higher incidence of depression, anxiety and mental illness, and even serve as a gateway drug to more harmful addictive drugs like opioids".

      The party cited a high rate in the growth of homelessness in Colorado, where cannabis has been legalized, and a doubling in fatal crashes among those who've tested positive for marijuana in that state.

      "The message that currently dominates public narrative in B.C. is that marijuana use is harmless," Anderson said, "but there is increasing concern within the medical community that recreational use of pot can have serious long-term consequences, and especially for young users. We must make education about these risks a number one priority."

      That point of view has been contradicted by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine's Jordan Bechtold, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Dustin Pardini, and Rutgers University's Theresa Simpson and Helene R. White.

      In a peer-reviewed longtitudinal study of long-term cannabis users from different racial backgrounds, they examined the plant's impact on physical health problems such as asthma, allergies, headaches, high blood pressure, physical injuries, concussion, and overall physical activity. 

      They also looked at anxiety, mood, and psychotic disorders.

      "Overall, data from this sample provide little to no evidence to suggest that patterns of marijuana use from adolescence to young adulthood, for the Black and White young men in the present study, were negatively related to the indicators of physical or mental health studied here," they concluded.

      The B.C. Conservatives have called B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson a "Trudeau supporter" because he gave more than $11,000 to the federal Liberals from 2006 to 2016.

      Party hopes to return from political wilderness

      The B.C. Conservatives have not had an MLA in the B.C. legislature since the 1979 when then party leader Vic Stephens lost his seat in Oak Bay-Gordon Head.

      But the party is hoping to stage a comeback in the next election. And its chances will improve if voters endorse proportional representation in a provincewide referendum later this year.

      Earlier this week, the B.C. Conservatives issued a news release stating that it is in favour of "all carefully regulated resource development projects, including pipelines, mines, LNG, and forestry".

      That includes Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project, which will triple diluted bitumen shipments from Alberta to the Lower Manland.

      The B.C. Conservatives have also tried to capitalize on the election of Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson as new leader of the B.C. Liberal party.

      In a February 5 news release, the B.C. Conservatives called Wilkinson a "Trudeau supporter", pointing out that he donated $11,317.35 to the Liberal Party of Canada between 2006 and 2016. 

      "We have seen an upsurge in interest in our party since the B.C. Liberal leadership election began," Anderson said. "With the election of a confirmed supporter of Trudeau's Liberal Party of Canada at the helm, there is simply no way for the B.C. Liberals to keep pretending that their party is in any way a coalition of federal Conservatives and federal Liberals."