Skip to main content
british columbia

The Dispensary, a medical cannabis dispensary in Vancouver, is pictured on April 22, 2015John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia's solicitor-general says there should be zero tolerance when police stopping drivers find the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

In an interview Saturday, Mike Morris said one question going forward is how much Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the intoxicating part of cannabis, should warrant a finding that a driver is impaired.

"I really like the model, and I believe it's Australia, where it's zero," Mr. Morris said after talking about the issue in response to a question from a delegate at the last B.C. Liberal convention before the May, 2017 election.

He said such a policy would provide certainty in terms of road safety. Earlier, he said he was concerned about increased fatality rates associated with the impaired operation of a vehicle in U.S. jurisdictions that legalized marijuana.

Marijuana-related traffic deaths in Colorado increased by 32 per cent in 2014, the year sales of marijuana for recreational use became legal, according to a 2015 report by the Colorado State Police.

The research found marijuana was a factor in 20 per cent of state traffic fatalities, which was double the number five years before.

Washington State, where recreational marijuana is also legal, and Colorado have set limits of five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood.

Mr. Morris noted that the issue is under review as the federal Liberal government, with the involvement of the RCMP and other police agencies, is considering various roadside devices to figure out how to manage the issue.

Mr. Morris said B.C. has been talking to the federal government about the marijuana issue and he has a team of his own reviewing the implications of legalization.

After the overall question of marijuana policy was raised by a convention delegate during a cabinet-accountability session, Premier Christy Clark briefly addressed the issue.

"Really, this is a federal government decision. They're going to make the design and we are going to make sure that we implement it safely in a way that protects children, in a way that protects users who want to know what they're getting and in a way that makes sure that organized crime doesn't see any benefit from it," the premier told delegates before handing the issue over to Mr. Morris.

In the interview, Mr. Morris played down the revenue riches that could come following legalization, saying the issue isn't a focus for B.C.

"If we approach this from an economic basis and say it's going to be a windfall for us, what we're going to do is encourage more of a black market," Mr. Morris said.

He said he was thinking about the tobacco industry.

"It's taxed right across the country. There's still a lot of illicit tobacco right across Canada, right across North America. I don't want that to happen with marijuana."

At this point, he said the B.C. government is more focused on health and safety. "We're not going to approach this, at all, from an economic basis."

He said there will be money coming in, but the struggle is to find a price that does not lead to nurturing illicit grow ops and a black market. "Where that balance is going to be, we don't know yet," he said.

In a report released earlier this month, the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer said provinces would be in line for about 60 per cent of marijuana taxation.

The same report said the sales tax revenue on legalized recreational marijuana could be as low as $356-million or reach $959-million, with a projected take of about $618-million based on legalized retail cannabis selling for $9 a gram – a figure in sync with current street prices.

In a report released in January, CIBC World Markets forecast that federal and provincial taxes on legal marijuana could be worth as much as $5-billion per year.

B.C. municipalities went into the most recent annual meeting of the Union of B.C. Municipalities talking about getting their share of revenues from legalized marijuana.

But Mr. Morris questioned their interest in that angle.

"In my view, they're starting from the wrong basis. You don't start from an economic basis. You start from a public safety, public-health basis and put the structures in place," he said.

"And then we'll figure out if there is any money to be spent."