Dana Larsen: 4 big problems with B.C.'s new cannabis laws

Why is the NDP punishing and stigmatizing cannabis users?

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      The B.C. NDP passed new cannabis legalization laws on May 31, with the support of the B.C. Greens.

      Unfortunately, instead of embracing the end of cannabis prohibition, the legislation generally continues the model of stigmatizing, marginalizing, and punishing cannabis users.

      Here are four big problems with B.C.'s new Cannabis Control and Licensing Act, and how to fix them.

      1. It bans your 4 legal cannabis plants from public view

      Under the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act, you can only grow your four legal cannabis plants at home if they are hidden from public view. If someone can see your plants from the street, you face a maximum of three months in jail for the first offence, and six months the second time!

      This means no growing a legal cannabis plant on your balcony or windowsill. No growing in your backyard unless you have a high fence.

      What is the point of threatening to jail people over the sight of legal cannabis plants? B.C. is the only province to have this kind of "hide your plants" law. The result of this will be that cannabis-hating nosey neighbours will be stalking their streets on tippy toes with 9-1-1 on speed dial.

      The NDP have been running ads to destigmatize drug users, reminding us that drug users are parents, friends, hockey fans, and so on. Yet now it has passed a law that stigmatizes cannabis users to such an extent that it criminalizes the mere sight of our homegrown plants!

      How to fix it: Get rid of this prohibition and destigmatize cannabis plants.

      2. It bans all home growing without a landlord's approval

      The law amends the Residential Tenancy Act to ban any renter from growing their four legal cannabis plants without their landlord's approval. While I appreciate some landlords have concerns about indoor cannabis growing, this ban lacks any nuance and is far too broad.

      Landlords should not be able to prohibit tenants from growing legal cannabis in their backyard or on their patio, any more than they could stop you growing any other legal plant in that manner.

      Together, these first two points effectively mean a ban on home growing your four legal plants in B.C., unless you are wealthy enough to own your own home. I think everyone should be able to grow their four legal cannabis plants in their backyard or on their patio, whether they are a homeowner or a renter.

      How to fix it: Amend the law to require landlord's approval only for indoor cannabis under artificial lights.

      3. It stops cities from licensing cannabis lounges

      This legislation as written would stop any city from licensing a cannabis lounge. This is because it bans cannabis use in workplaces, meaning people aren't allowed to work in a place where cannabis is smoked or vaporized, like a lounge.

      This copies the current ban on tobacco use in a workplace, which is in place ostensibly to protect employees from harmful smoke. Of course cannabis smoke is not the same as tobacco smoke, and should be regulated differently. Even cannabis vaporizing is banned in the same way, even though cannabis vapour doesn't involve smoke at all.

      My experience is that the people who work in cannabis lounges are almost always cannabis users themselves, usually medical users, who often need cannabis during the day. They choose to work in lounges because those are the only employers willing to accommodate their cannabis use.

      Why not let cities have the option of licensing cannabis lounges if they wish to? In this time of changing laws, let's allow municipalities to experiment with different models and see what works.

      How to fix it: Add the words "unless permitted by civic bylaw" so cities have more control and options when it comes to licensing cannabis lounges.

      4. It punishes possession of "illicit cannabis"

      This new B.C. law bans possession of "illicit cannabis" with a maximum $5,000 fine and three months in jail for the first offence, and double those penalties the second time.

      What is "illicit cannabis" you might ask? It's anything you buy outside the legal system.

      Dispensary cannabis, buds you buy from a friend, basically everything you've ever smoked is banned in B.C. This means that after "legalization" you can still be charged and punished for the joint you've got in your pocket!

      This ban is already in place at the federal level, with possession of "illicit cannabis" punishable with the same $5,000 fine and three months in jail on summary conviction, although federally the penalties don't double the second time. So what is the point of repeating these same prohibitions provincially? No other province has done this.

      At a time when the federal NDP and the Canadian Mental Health Association are calling for decriminalization of possession of all drugs, the B.C. NDP have decided instead to do the exact opposite and create new punishments for possession of "illicit cannabis".

      This ban on "illicit cannabis" won't affect middle class white people, regardless of where they get their cannabis from. It will be the poor, marginalized, and racialized people in our province who will find themselves harassed and punished by overzealous cops because of this ridiculous provision in the law.

      How to fix it: Eliminate this section entirely and leave the laws against illicit possession to the feds.

      There are many other flaws

      There's some other weird things in the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act too. Like how it bans passengers from smoking or vaping cannabis on a boat, which means no cannabis-friendly cruise ships or boat tours. Or how it requires all cannabis store workers to be "registered" with the government. Or how parents can give their own children alcohol, but a parent who gives their own kid some cannabis can get a maximum $50,000 fine and a year in jail.

      The punitive and stigmatizing approach of B.C.'s Cannabis Control and Licensing Act is a step backward for cannabis legalization in our province. The NDP and Greens need to get together and fix this act as soon as possible.

      The B.C. Cannabis Control and Licensing Act has passed, but it's not too late to have your say.

      You can click here to email the NDP and Greens who passed this law and tell them it needs fixing!

      Dana Larsen is a long-time cannabis-legalization activist in Vancouver. Follow him on Twitter @DanaLarsen.

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