B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says British Columbia made the right call to take marijuana legalization slowly.
The province has just one government cannabis retailer open, and the first private cannabis retailer is set to open a store in Vancouver on Dec. 29.
In a wide-ranging, year-end interview with Global News, Farnworth said the changes were complex.
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“It was the biggest public policy shift in this province — in this country — in decades,” Farnworth said.
Farnworth says B.C. did not have the same problems as Alberta, where multiple storefronts opened and the province ran out of product. The B.C. government also gave power to the municipalities to decide if they wanted retail locations or not.
“We said all along that this was going to be a gradual evolution, that you were not going to suddenly see 200 stores overnight,” Farnworth said. “You are going to see more and more stores open in the months ahead.”
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There is also the question of enforcement still lingering. The province has not started to crack down on dispensaries still operating outside of the federal government’s legal framework.
“As more stores open up, you are going to see enforcement ramping up. It has taken Colorado, for example, four years to get the black market down to less than 30 per cent,” Farnworth said.
“The key part of that is supply of legal cannabis. And as you see more supply, you will see more stores open up and enforcement will step up accordingly.”
The provincial government is also in the midst of a concerted effort to crack down on crashes. This past year saw more crashes on the province’s roads than ever before, and the cost of repairing those vehicles is adding to the financial nightmare at ICBC.
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Farnworth says his government is targeting intersections, where a bulk of the crashes take place. This has included activating red light cameras for 24 hours a day.
“The message is really clear when you talk to British Columbians. They want action taken at intersections, where we know that more than 50 per cent of accidents take place,” Farnworth said.
The province is also adding 35 speed on green cameras. This idea has been controversial, with critics comparing it to photo radar. The government is being cautious about installing the cameras, having already delayed putting them in place.
“Those cameras are not installed yet. My expectation is that you will be seeing them later next year,” Farnworth said.
“We expect them to make an impact. One, on the crashes that take place in intersections and another, to get people to slow down.”
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Policing in Surrey will also be on Farnworth’s plate in 2019. New Surrey mayor Doug McCallum has started the work to get rid of the RCMP in the city and build a regional police force from the ground up.
“I have to ensure that there is safe and effective policing in place in Surrey. What I have said to my staff is to work co-operatively with Surrey to ensure the plan is in place,” Farnworth said.
“We will have to allow that process to work.”