Cannabis retailers in British Columbia, particularly the Okanagan, are frustrated with the competition. The worse part is, they are unlicensed and shouldn’t be interfering with private retailers’ profits. The unlicensed shops create an unfair advantage in an already over-saturated market.
Licenced cannabis shops are also upset with government interest in undercutting private legal retail cannabis stores through taxpayer-subsidized operations rather than achieving this goal through actual enforcement measures.
The Okanagan Cannabis Collective, which represents approximately 20 cannabis stores in the Okanagan, has released an open letter, going as far as calling for B.C.’s minister of public safety and solicitor general, Mike Farnworth, responsible for the enforcement of the provinces cannabis laws, to resign.
The collective released a Google Map document highlighting 35 known cannabis stores operating in B.C. without a provincial licence. Many of the stores are on Indigenous land. No effort for collaboration with indigenous nations has been put forward.
Legal shops feel they have the right to do business how they see fit. The government should be assisting those individuals in obtaining licensing or providing them with the resources to operate on the same level, quality-wise, for the product.
“Our cannabis law (OKIB Cannabis Control Law) supersedes the provincial law. We’re federal, and we’re sovereign, so how we’re going about it is different than anybody else,” says Cory Brewer, owner of Tupa’s Joint, an Indigenous-owned cannabis dispensary.
In October 2018, the federal government legalized non-medicinal cannabis and moved enforcement to the province.
The Community Safety Unit (CSU), a branch of the B.C. government tasked with applying the province’s cannabis laws and enforcing the Federal Cannabis Act, left First Nations out of the law altogether. First Nations say they were not consulted during the development of the law, leaving many communities to develop their own laws.
Level Playing Field
To level the playing field for those licenced cannabis shops, the government would have to :
- Eliminate PST
- Eliminate the 15% markup on products
- Remove licencing fees
According to CSU, officers continue to actively follow up with unlicensed retailers in communities across B.C. and have been increasing enforcement action.
The ministry said 173 unlicensed retailers either closed or stopped selling cannabis as a direct result of CSU actions. As of Oct. 4, the province has collected more than $1.2 million in penalties from illegal retailers who chose to continue to operate.
“The CSU is also educating those who own or operate properties about the potential consequences for allowing their premises to be used for the sale of cannabis. To date, CSU officers have completed more than 70 inspections involving the seizure of cannabis with a total estimated retail value of approximately $20 million.”
B.C.’s minister of public safety and solicitor general, Mike Farnworth
The ministry also wants legal retailers to know they are staying committed to supporting the growth of diverse, legal and strong cannabis sectors, always reviewing cannabis regulations, and looking to make sure the sector is supported in being as successful as possible.