EDITORIAL: Tax dollars lying in the weeds

This week, the Province of British Columbia unveiled the first phase of its policy framework to deal with the impending legalization of recreational marijuana. Following weeks of consultation that drew responses from roughly 49,000 B.C. residents and more than 140 local and First Nations governments, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth on Tuesday announced details on the legal age of use and possession, distribution and wholesale controls and a mix of public and private retail outlets for recreational pot sale, which is expected to be legalized by the federal government in July of 2018.

Among the factors the province has not yet decided upon, noted in the press release equivalent of fine print, was the sharing of tax revenue as the weed economy lurches from the black market into the light of day.

Even as B.C. and other provinces wage their own negotiations with the federal government, local governments are expressing their own demands for a slice of the brownie, citing the local costs that will be downloaded in bylaw enforcement, education and more.

The City of Parksville in October forwarded eight pot policy recommendations to the province, chief among them the insistence that local governments get a piece of the action. Last week, the Regional District of Nanaimo board of directors followed suit while rolling out its own list of seven framework recommendations. Once again, tax revenue accruing to local government was a cornerstone of the input.

Even school districts are getting in on the act.

In its most recent meeting, the Nanaimo school board voted unanimously to forward a letter to all local governments in the district, calling for the school district to be involved in all discussions related to the regulation of legalized marijuana.

Though the Nanaimo school board did not specifically ask for a share of the funding, Trustee Stephanie Higginson did note much of the responsibility of rolling out a legal recreational marijuana regime will fall upon local governments.

That should not be an unfunded mandate — and the money is very real.

The state of Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, raked in $105 million in tax revenue from pot sales in the 2016-17 fiscal year. Among the recipients of that largesse in the state’s 2018 budget are homeless and mental health initiatives, the hiring of health professionals in 150 of the state’s high schools and even the battle against the opioid crisis.

Any of those issues sound familiar?

While Farnworth on Tuesday expressed optimism that the Federal Liberals were prepared to “back off” on their preliminary plan for a 50/50 split of tax revenues, the province has yet to learn its ultimate share of tax revenues and certainly has not budgeted any anticipated windfall.

That means local governments will also have to wait and see what kind of a share they may ultimately receive. But waiting passively is unlikely to aid their cause. The recommendations being made by our representatives right now are not only proper, but should continue as the marijuana economy makes its way into the light.

— Parksville Qualicum Beach News

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