Farnworth: BC to move ahead on consumption spaces

Published on April 24, 2023 by David Wylie

BC Deputy Premier Mike Farnworth speaks at the BC Cannabis Summit in 2023. Photo: David Wylie/the oz.
BC Deputy Premier Mike Farnworth speaks at the 2023 BC Cannabis Summit.

BC Deputy Premier Mike Farnworth mused about BC’s near future, in which cannabis tourists can light up a joint during a farmgate stop.

Then soon after that, special-event permits would sanction weed at concerts, comedy shows, conferences… use your imagination.

Farnworth told a packed house at the Eldorado Resort on Saturday that the province is indeed moving ahead with work to enable hospitality and tourism opportunities for the cannabis industry. Earlier this year, a government survey showed strong support—with some active opposition—in the province for cannabis consumption spaces.

While BC is fairly liberal when it comes to publicly consuming cannabis, he says, there are prohibitions around promoting places to consume.

Farnworth travelled to Kelowna, BC, on the weekend to deliver a keynote address at the BC Cannabis Summit. He also took time to meet with cannabis delegates at the Okanagan Valley resort.

The BC Cannabis Summit attracted attendees who represented government at all levels, including Indigenous, as well as businesses big and small. Many attendees enjoyed smoking joints on the rooftop of the Historic Eldorado Hotel and on the patio of the Mateo Resort, both promoted by organizers who have pushed the envelope for two years.

Photo: Adobe/the oz.
The Okanagan blossoms in the springtime. Cannabis tourism could be a boon to the region.

Cannabis regulations are a barrier to tourism

“We know that this is a barrier to tourism and hospitality opportunities, so in the short-term we are going to review and reconsider those rules,” says Farnworth.

“We’ll also look at whether there is a need to tweak regulations to allow farmgate store customers to buy a pre-roll and then smoke it outside—at a picnic table for example—to inform their decision about whether to make a larger purchase.”

After opening up cannabis consumption at farmgate sites, Farnworth says the province will look at authorizing special events.

He says collaboration with Indigenous partners is an important part of the process as it moves forward.

Farnworth acknowledged several issues where the government of BC is advocating for change at the federal level that creates barriers to the success of BC’s industry, including:

  • Increasing THC limits on edibles
  • Packaging requirements
  • Increasing the public possession limit

He also acknowledged challenges around the federal excise tax on cannabis. When asked during a Q&A with the audience whether the BC government has considered stopping collecting its 75% share of the cannabis excise tax—or at least giving BC cannabis producers a rebate for the excise tax on products they sell in BC—he responded: “I can tell you that I will be taking that back to discuss with our finance minister, who is very familiar with the industry by the way.” (BC Finance Minister Katrine Conroy is MLA for the West Kootenays—a region notorious for its black market cannabis.)

Further regarding the excise tax, Farnworth says he wrote a letter to his “federal counterpart” for an expedited review.

“How it will play out, I’m not sure,” he says.

“I’m not trying to point fingers at the federal government. If there’s one thing I’ve heard over and over again it’s the impact of the excise tax. We hear that it’s a major impediment.”

Provincially, he announced the province would be looking at increasing the cap on cannabis retail stores in the province, which is currently eight. He says the rules were in place to keep corporations from taking over the market.

Farnworth also says he sees real potential in cannabis tourism. And not just farmgate by itself, rather tying cannabis with wineries, Indigenous, and nature-based tourism.

He also says BC has more licensed micro-producers than any other province, though he acknowledged the process is complex and expensive to navigate.

“We know there’s a lot more to do,” he told the crowd.

Cannabis moving into other political portfolios

“There’s the federal regulations and there are provincial regulations,” he says.

One area for change in provincial government, he says, is the role of agriculture in the cannabis sector, including the potential for a ‘Buy BC’ craft cannabis program.

The health and safety will always be important aspects, he says, adding: “There’s an opportunity now, five years in, to move that emphasis now to agriculture and economic development side.”

Farnworth says the province has signed seven government to government agreements with First Nations bands, including the Summit’s title sponsor, All Nations.