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British Columbia has announced that it will legalize and regulate the use of recreational marijuana in the near future. Once legalized, anyone over the age of 19 will be allowed to buy marijuana from either privately or publicly owned marijuana distributors. Mike Farnworth, the solicitor general, has indicated that marijuana regulation will likely mirror current regulations on alcohol and tobacco in an attempt to maintain public health and safety while allowing British Columbian citizens to enjoy their newfound right to smoke marijuana recreationally.

The most important takeaway of the announcement, therefore, is that while marijuana will be legalized for recreational purposes, it will also be regulated. The British Columbia does not want a legal marijuana free for all, and anyone who is found to have violated the new marijuana regulations could face criminal fines or imprisonment. Potential users of legalized marijuana should closely follow any developments regarding regulation and ensure that they understand what the extent of marijuana regulation will entail.

The Age Limit for Smoking Marijuana Recreationally

The government does not want a bonanza of recreational marijuana and therefore plans to regulate its use. Like with alcohol sales, the primary regulation will be the permissible consumption and purchasing age. Under the proposed legalization law, only persons age 19 or older will be permitted to buy and consume marijuana for non-medical purposes.

The age requirement will likely be as vigilantly enforced as the prohibition on underage alcohol purchases due to the uncertain health effects that marijuana has on youth brain development. Those operating marijuana dispensaries should ensure that anyone whom marijuana is sold to meets the age requirements or criminal penalties will likely result.

Patchwork of Private and Public Marijuana Dispensaries

The government has currently proposed mixed public and private sales of marijuana. Unlike the Ontario model, which authorizes only public dispensaries, British Columbia’s law will result in both private and public dispensaries being allowed to sell marijuana. The government has not stated whether online sales of marijuana will be permitted, even if the online sales are made by licensed dispensaries.

Private dispensaries will likely be highly regulated, however. Given the sensitive nature of marijuana and its status as a narcotic, dispensaries selling marijuana will be closely watched, particularly in the first few years after legalization to ensure that all regulations are being followed. Anyone who intends to operate a legal private marijuana dispensary in the British Columbia should seek legal counsel to help ensure compliance with any and all regulations of the private dispensary market.

Smoking Marijuana in Public – Uncertainty as to Whether Public Smoking Will Be Permitted

The proposed marijuana regulations have not been finalized, and the government’s public announcement was relatively vague on many important issues. One of the key unanswered questions is whether marijuana will be allowed to be smoked recreationally outside in public spaces.

Some factors indicate that public smoking will not be permitted. First, Ontario’s marijuana regulations prevent outdoor smoking. While British Columbia’s proposed dispensary regulations already diverge from the Ontario model, it is possible, if not likely, that British Columbia will opt to bar public smoking. Second, public opinion is against allowing marijuana to be smoked recreationally in public. Many are concerned about both the smell and possible medical consequences of second-hand marijuana smoke. Therefore, it is possible that recreational marijuana smoking may not be permitted in public places.

Impaired Driving Laws and the Impact of Legalized Recreational Marijuana

The recreational marijuana legalization in the British Columbia will not alter or change the impaired driving laws that already exist. Currently, driving while under the influence of marijuana is punishable as a criminal offense and could result in fines, a temporary driving suspension, or even jail time. In addition to the criminal consequences, keep in mind that marijuana impairment can also be used as evidence against the impaired driver in the civil context as well if an accident occurs.

Any users of recreational marijuana should abstain from driving while high and plan ahead to use taxis or ride sharing services. This is not simply because marijuana use may impair driving ability–in fact, the science is not entirely clear on whether marijuana has the same effects of impairment of driving as alcohol–but because the government is concerned about accidents due to increased marijuana usage, enforcement will be on the rise. The police will be on the lookout for anyone driving under the influence of marijuana and will take action against anyone violating the law. It is also likely that the number of driving checkpoints will be increased immediately after legalization.

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