B.C.’s “community safety unit” and police raid an unlicensed cannabis store in Sooke, Oct. 27, 2019. Since legalization, enforcement has focused on dispensaries, not traditional street and delivery sellers. (Tim Collins/Sooke News Mirror)

B.C.’s “community safety unit” and police raid an unlicensed cannabis store in Sooke, Oct. 27, 2019. Since legalization, enforcement has focused on dispensaries, not traditional street and delivery sellers. (Tim Collins/Sooke News Mirror)

Cannabis retailers call for change in B.C.’s legal sales regime

Online purchase and delivery monopoly exploited by black market in COVID-19 pandemic

A national cannabis retailers group has persuaded the B.C. government to make legal stores safer, and now it wants to level the playing field with black market marijuana sellers who can deliver to their customers.

The Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers (ACCRES) first called in January for a change to B.C. regulation requiring opaque or covered windows for retailers, similar to federal tobacco legislation designed to keep any glimpse of products or brands from those under 19. The move demonstrates the law-enforcement focus of federal and provincial marijuana regimes, with unintended consequences that may increase risk of crime.

“By forcing retailers to opaque their windows, the government of B.C. has created a situation where retailers are at elevated risk of assault and robbery due to the limited lines of sight, and law enforcement’s ability to respond is equally curtailed,” ACCRES said in a March submission to the provinces’ Cannabis Regulation Branch.

The group cited assault and robbery attempts at member stores during the first year of legalization, and recommendations of the Victoria and Vancouver police as they shut down illegal dispensaries for non-compliance with licences and rules. B.C.’s “community safety unit” was created to help police bring order to the recreational market after federal legalization in October 2018.

Attorney General David Eby announced the window covering change on June 18, retaining strict rules against any product or brand viewing, inside and outside stores. Health Canada’s tobacco-style packaging and brand restrictions are another factor in illegal sellers holding onto the majority of the Canadian recreational market, particularly in B.C.

Public health restrictions on movement in the COVID-19 pandemic have magnified another unintended consequence. With police enforcement focused on unlicensed retail stores, and a strict provincial monopoly for legal online ordering and delivery, an industry association says the traditional phone-and-drop-off method of street drug sales is appealing to more people.

RELATED: No surge in pandemic pot sales at B.C.’s legal stores

RELATED: B.C. First Nation plans ‘farm-to-gate’ on reserve land

RELATED: B.C. allows retailers windows, imposes staff training

In a letter to B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, ACCRES argues that and online age verification and sales tracking solutions are already available, and trained store staff can provide no-contact deliveries as well as the online monopoly using Canada Post.

“Direct delivery is currently available to the residents of Saskatchewan and Ontario via provincially licensed retailers,” the letter states. “ACCRES proposes that these existing regulations be adapted for the B.C. sector, as they represent the latest evolution of best practices during the COVID-19 health emergency.”

With Premier John Horgan’s declared goal of making B.C. “craft cannabis” the new craft beer, the B.C. government is examining “farm-to-gate” sales as it has with other agricultural products as well as .

One producer already planning to sell from the farm is Sugar Cane Cannabis, a project of the Williams Lake First Nation. On reserve land inside the city limits, the project isn’t subject to municipal licensing and the jurisdiction of the province is unclear as Indigenous self-government expands in B.C.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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