There's a reason provincial governments in this country are freaking out about having to meet next summer's deadline for legalizing pot: They're finding it a complete and utter nightmare.
There's so much to consider. Who can grow it? How will it be retailed and marketed? What level of taxation will be applied? How will new laws associated with a million and one different aspects of legalization be enforced? Who covers those costs? What happens when someone's dog dies after eating a neighbour's marijuana plant?
And that barely scratches the surface.
"The scope of it is unbelievable," B.C. Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth said in a recent interview.
Mr. Farnworth is overseeing his province's efforts to comply with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's July, 2018, target date for the legal sale of recreational pot to commence. It's become a file demanding virtually all of Mr. Farnworth's attention. On Tuesday, the B.C. government announced progress on a few areas: The minimum age to possess, purchase or consume cannabis will be 19; B.C. will have a government-administered wholesale distribution model; and there will be both public and private retail outlets.
In many respects, however, that's low-hanging fruit when it comes to the challenges provincial governments face. The situation in B.C. is further complicated by the fact there has been a thriving (illegal) marijuana business in the province for years. In some remote areas, it's become an important pillar of the economy.
"There are some existing producers who are best described as being in a grey market," Mr. Farnworth said. "They are not involved with organized crime but they do underpin a number of local economies. If the goal is to get rid of the illegal black market, then it makes sense to find a way to bring those people into legitimacy rather than outlaw their involvement." Otherwise, they are likely to continue serving their clients at prices that are lower than what are being charged through the new, legalized regulatory system.
Mr. Farnworth has formed a working group that has been going full-out since the summer. There has been extensive consultation with several ministries that will be affected by the looming changes. He estimates that at least 18 provincial statutes will have to be amended to reflect marijuana's new status. Other laws will have to be written from scratch. There have been extensive conversations with other provinces to see what they are doing. Each will have a unique cannabis regime.
That is likely to be the case on a municipal level as well. Cities have a say in what pot sales look like inside their jurisdictions. The Vancouver suburb of Richmond, for instance, has said it wants no retail outlets at all. Then there are the questions of how it will all be policed and who will pay for it. Those are questions several mayors from cash-strapped small towns and cities have been asking. And then there is the matter of enforcement: In terms of new rules and regulations, will the province have authority, or will that be the responsibility of local governments?
"People say, 'Let's legalize marijuana,' which is fine," Mr. Farnworth said. "But there are so many ancillary consequences that flow from that, ones that just don't pop to mind immediately but surface eventually as you more fully explore the ramifications."
For instance, can a landlord say: "I'm going to rent you my property, but you can't grow cannabis plants on it even though Ottawa says you can cultivate up to four plants"? What does legalization mean for the workplace and the rights of employers and employees? What rules will there be around smoking pot in public? Should provinces and local bodies treat it the same as cigarettes? Lobbyists already want provinces to accommodate tourists looking for a safe place to smoke up.
The B.C. government has also heard from veterinarians who are worried about the health effects of marijuana on animals. Many say there has not been enough research done. What if a dog ingests a cookie laced with pot? Should marijuana treats for animals be available or only dispensed for legitimately medical reasons? (To which I say: What kind of person would want to get their animal stoned unless it was to deal with some pain-related issue?)
We'll know the answers to many of these questions in about six months. But rest assured, whatever laws are introduced, they are certain to be challenged and amended. Legalizing marijuana may sound simple. In fact, it's anything but.