'A lot of questions': B.C. candidates take wait-and-see approach to pot legalization

Pot policy group says Regina police being 'fairly decent' about Sask. dispensary crackdown

When it comes to marijuana laws in B.C., no one wants to put their foot in their mouth.

The federal government recently introduced legislation intended to bring about full legalization of recreational marijuana by 2018, but many regulatory decisions will be left to the provinces.

With a B.C. election on the horizon, the Liberals, NDP and Greens are playing it safe in terms of how they plan to regulate it.

Consultation, consultation, consultation

Provinces have been left to determine their own minimum legal age, as long as it doesn't fall below 18, the federal minimum. Surrey-Guildford Liberal candidate Amrik Virk said his party would convene a panel of health and safety experts "right away" to aid the government's decision.

"It's going to be data-driven, science-driven — an expert panel to hear all the factors and provide advice to government," he said, noting the B.C. Liberals would not set an age below 19 — the province's legal age for the purchase of alcohol.

The federal plan also brings up the question of what will happen to existing cannabis stores in B.C.

Victoria-Swan Lake Green candidate Chris Maxwell said his party would "probably move to have them licensed."

The federal legislation just came out a week ago, so we're going to need some time to work through that and do what's best for the citizens of B.C.," he said.

Virk said that cannabis vendors will be subject to "strict" regulations.

"Very similar to rules that, for example, liquor stores must adhere to," said Virk.

Port Coquitlam NDP candidate Mike Farnworth promised to consult with the public, experts and law enforcement on all aspects of regulation.

"We want to make sure that the implementation of the legalization of marijuana in British Columbia is tightly regulated," he said.

Weed with your wine?

The candidates diverged slightly on their approaches to selling pot in liquor stores — something liquor stores desperately want. Virk spoke strongly against it.

"What's concerning to me is you've got John Horgan already saying that an option in public liquor stores is a good one," he said, noting that it is not done anywhere in the U.S. states that have legalized marijuana, and that the federal panel recommended against it.

Maxwell said the B.C. Greens don't support the idea either, "due to the potential for more impaired driving."

He said they will look not only to the U.S., but abroad, to places like the Netherlands, which has sold cannabis in coffee shops for decades.

Farnworth said the option is still on the table for the NDP, noting that the decision is up to the provinces, and that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has indicated that she would consider it.

Farnworth also took a shot at the B.C. Liberals for not consulting with states that have legalized cannabis. He said officials in Washington State and Oregon "looked at the opportunities that British Columbia has with our regulated liquor store system as ... something to potentially consider."

Waiting to see

Farnworth stressed that the federal legislation was not finalized, and amendments may crop up.

"There are some important issues that the federal government has said are not going to be decided on just yet, until the full framework is in place," he said. "There's a lot of questions that need to be asked and answered before we decide on a model for the distribution of cannabis in British Columbia."

With files from CBC Radio One's On the Coast