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British Columbia B.C. eagerly anticipating federal bill legalizing marijuana

After decades as a marijuana renegade, British Columbia is eagerly anticipating the federal government’s bill legalizing marijuana.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

After decades as a marijuana renegade, British Columbia is eagerly anticipating the federal government's bill legalizing marijuana.

Growing marijuana has become a backyard tradition in B.C. and the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in Vancouver and Victoria rival Tim Horton's outlets. Politicians, entrepreneurs and ordinary citizens are convinced marijuana offers unprecedented economic, social and health opportunities as Ottawa gets ready to introduce its legislation.

Vancouver-based Tantalus Labs, which grows medical marijuana in greenhouses, released a report this month that said the industry could create 15,000 jobs in B.C.

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Explainer: Legal marijuana is coming but what does it mean for you?

It said B.C.'s illegal marijuana market provides 40 per cent of Canada's black market and is worth $2.7-billion, with 85 per cent of that going to organized crime.

Dan Sutton, executive director at Tantalus, said he's worried B.C. is lagging behind Nova Scotia, Ontario and Alberta in developing a legal marijuana industry and could lose out.

"B.C. bud is a household name, globally," said Sutton. "We have a storied cultural history associated with cannabis and it's time for us to leverage that brand."

None of B.C.'s provincial political parties have touted marijuana legalization in the May 9 election campaign, he said.

NDP Leader John Horgan said he supports legalization. "I've been thinking about it a lot," he said in a recent interview.

Horgan has studied marijuana policy and the opportunities from legalizing the drug.

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Last year, he sent two of his most senior caucus members, Carole James and Mike Farnworth, to Washington and Oregon to view how those states implemented and adapted to legal marijuana use and sales.

"We need to be prepared here in B.C.," Horgan said.

Horgan said he's met with the B.C. Government Service Employees Union about marijuana sales. The union has 4,000 members at government-run liquor stores and provincial liquor distribution outlets.

He's also met with operators of private beer and wine stores, pharmacies, marijuana dispensaries and craft beer brewers.

"We need to find a way, a (sales and distribution) model that, I think, is a hybrid of all those things," Horgan said.

He said he supports the sale of marijuana for recreational users at government liquor stores.

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Stephanie Smith, the union's president, said it has formed an alliance with private liquor store operators to lobby for the distribution and sales rights of recreational marijuana at their outlets. The union has met with B.C.'s Liberal government and the NDP, she said.

There are 198 government liquor stores and about 670 private stores in B.C.

Liberal Leader Christy Clark said she has three concerns about marijuana once it becomes legal: she wants organized crime out of the business, assurances that legal marijuana is safe and of high quality, and that it's kept away from children.

Clark said in an interview last week she doesn't want people to believe that there are no risks associated with smoking pot because the government has legalized it.

"Just like alcohol, it's got a lot of harms associated with it, so I want to make sure we do everything we can to keep it out of the hands of kids."

Green Leader Andrew Weaver said the Greens will support marketing opportunities for B.C. craft marijuana growers.

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"We will fight very hard to ensure that the big multinationals do not step in and take up the market," he said.

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