It was news Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson was not expecting. One year earlier, in September, 2012, he had supported a resolution at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Victoria calling on the federal government to study the decriminalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana. He did not expect it to go anywhere.
He had, in the past, also supported resolutions calling on the federal government to provide financing for transit and social housing, and to reverse its decision on the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. All of those had met with stony silence. He had learned not to hold his breath.
Now, the letter he held in his hand, a letter from the Prime Minister’s Office, quoted his own words back to him: “This is not a partisan issue. Widespread access to marijuana for our youth, grow-ops that provide funds for organized crime, and significant costs to taxpayers for enforcement are all compelling reasons to re-examine our failed approach to prohibition.”
“When did I even say that?” he thought. Right. It was the Stop the Violence Campaign six months earlier.
The letter went on: The Stephen Harper government, would, at its first opportunity, introduce legislation to amend the Criminal Code of Canada to reclassify marijuana as a controlled, rather than an illicit substance, like alcohol.
Forget about a study.
Possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use would no longer be against the law.
The federal government was leap-frogging over the provinces and giving municipalities exactly what they had asked for: not just an end to the prohibition of marijuana but also the ability to regulate its production, distribution and sale, and the means to reap the rewards in tax revenue.
Was it some kind of prank? A hoax? Two phone calls to Ottawa confirmed it was not.
The Prime Minister would rise in the House of Commons and declare that he was acting on the wishes of Canada’s municipal leaders in taking this bold step.
How long would B.C.’s cities and towns have to act on the legislation? To work out the details of who would grow the weed, how it would be warehoused, and who would sell it?
How would the potency be determined? In what form and quantity would it be sold? Would it be branded? Would the city need to lease retail space? What would the pot cost and what portion of that would be tax? What would be the minimum age?
The mayor had always expected those details would be left to the province.
He buzzed for city manager Penny Ballem.
“Well, obviously we can’t let people smoke it,” she said, as she pushed open the door to the mayor’s wood-paneled office. She had received the same letter.
“At least, not in public.”
“I thought that was kind of the point,” the mayor said as he plugged in the kettle.
“Come on. Get real, Gregor. I’m a doctor. We’ve banned cigarettes from every corner of this city. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a bunch of potheads stink up my boot camp. Never mind the condo owners.”
“Don’t they have those vaporizer things now?” Mr. Robertson asked. “No smoke.”
Ms. Ballem went on: “And the minimum age has to be 21.”
“But, that feels so, so ... American,” Mr. Robertson replied.
“Yeah, well, suck it up, princess,” she responded. “I say we control the whole thing. From planting to Pringles. Heh, I like that. It’s the only way we can keep the THC levels down. And it can’t be cheap. We take over the conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park, you know, as a demonstration project. Get those greenhouses at Sunset back on line.”
The mayor took a deep breath. “But if we keep the THC levels down, and the price up, doesn’t that leave an opening for a black market? You know, people who can offer higher potency stuff at a better price? This was supposed to be about taking the profit out of the hands of gangs.”
“Yeah, well, you should have thought of that before you raised your hand in Victoria last year. You think this is going to make gangs go away? You’re so cute.”
Mr. Robertson poured boiling water from the kettle into a teapot.
“Want some red rooibos?” he asked. “It’s Safari Spice.”
“Uh, no. Thanks. Needless to say, the border’s going to be a nightmare. I mean it might have been different if I-502 had passed. But even people in Washington State had the good sense to see this was a minefield.”
“But what if we just say, hey, grow as much as you like,” the mayor offered. “Trade it with your friends. Give it away. You know, flood the market?”
“Yeah, right. And where’s the profit in that?”