B.C.’s first government cannabis store opens in Kamloops, October 2018. The city is getting two more government stores this year. (Black Press files)

B.C.’s first government cannabis store opens in Kamloops, October 2018. The city is getting two more government stores this year. (Black Press files)

B.C. VIEWS: Will the NDP lose money selling marijuana?

Government monopoly sounds great, if you work there

Licensed private marijuana stores are finally starting to flower in B.C., with StarBud launching in the Okanagan and Clarity Cannabis aiming for a September opening in Prince Rupert, among others.

Meanwhile, the (cough) informal marijuana market seems to be rolling along as B.C. wanders toward the first anniversary of cannabis legalization. Here in Victoria, retail stores started opening up years ago, usually with some token nod to “medical” customers, and our famously inept city council started issuing business licences well in advance of federal legalization.

Why? Well, Vancouver was doing it, and in both of these Left Coast social laboratories, federal laws may be viewed more as suggestions. (For example, just declare yourself a “sanctuary city” and instruct your police not to inquire into anyone’s citizenship status. Poof, no more Canadian immigration law.)

In the weed business, illegal operators seem to be doing better than federal and provincial wholesale monopolies. In some cities, consumers have no ready way to tell if a pot store is provincially approved, or has even bothered with a business licence.

Government competition has caused the black market to sharpen its pencils. Statistics Canada estimates that as legal weed prices rise above $10 a gram, illegal producers are cutting consumer costs down towards $5.

RELATED: Langley residents protest huge pot greenhouse smell

RELATED: RCMP seize guns, cash, marijuana headed for Europe

The B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch is doing a great job on its slick-looking retail chain – in Kamloops, anyway. The home of the first B.C. Cannabis Store is about to get two more, and people are lining up to apply for the intensive training offered for unionized “budtenders.”

Anticipating the price problem, the LDB was restrained to a mere 15 per cent wholesale markup. Its monopoly on federally-licensed suppliers is an extension of its liquor wholesale monopoly, which marks up a bottle of hard liquor by 124 per cent, whether it’s sold in a public or private retail store. Then you pay taxes on top of that.

Local politicians are preparing for the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in September, where the discussion about their cut of B.C. revenues will no doubt continue. (Another topic is the local share of fine revenue from the “not photo radar” cameras that will soon be issuing speeding tickets by mail.)

The LDB also has the online cannabis sales monopoly, where you can use your credit card to order products with names like Kinky Kush that come in amazingly over-packaged Canada Post secure deliveries. A few, er, kinks still need to be straightened out in this government workers’ paradise, such as popular strains running out and others arriving mouldy from sitting too long in a warehouse.

Growers and grey-market dispensary operators warned early on that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s vision of legalization would lead to shortages. One buzz-killing result of this is the accusation that a publicly traded grower in Ontario concealed the true size of its crop from Health Canada inspectors. Perhaps their chosen brand, CannTrust, wasn’t the best one.

I hope you don’t spend too much time on Twitter, but if you do, check the hashtag #4plantscup. There you will find experts competing to maximize the yield from the four cannabis plants individuals are now allowed to grow at home for personal use.

This is perhaps the biggest long-term threat to the provincial-federal monopoly. As long as home grows are kept discreetly out of sight and don’t obviously exceed size and commercial restrictions, police will devote their time to more pressing concerns.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislature

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Youth Climate Corps is seen here planting garlic at a permaculture farm while learning about food security. Photo: Submitted
COLUMN: Canada’s first Youth Climate Corps gets to work

Fourteen young adults are working to advance local climate change mitigation

Amanda Parsons, a registered nurse on staff at the Northwood Care facility, administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine to Ann Hicks, 77, in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-Pool
61 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

Twenty-nine people are in hospital, seven of whom are in intensive care

Dr. Cori Lausen, bat specialist, has questions about logging in an unusual bat habitat near Beasley. Photo: Submitted
Kaslo biologist questions logging at unique West Kootenay bat site

Dr. Cori Lausen, a bat specialist, studies a population of bats above Beasley

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Vernon's Noric House long-term care facility is dealing with an influenza outbreak amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (File photo)
Two more deaths at Vernon care home

Noric House case numbers remain steady, but death toll rises

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

The Elk Valley Hospital is adapting to meet the needs of patients in the Elk Valley.
1-in-5 COVID tests coming back positive in and around Fernie, sparking concern

Dr Ron Clark of Elk Valley Hospital said one in five tests was returning positive for COVID-19

Throughout December, RCMP conducted CounterAttack road checks as police worked to keep roads free of impaired drivers. (BLACK PRESS file photo)
‘You can’t make this stuff up’: Stories from the B.C. CounterAttack campaign

Amusing, yes, but a reminder impaired driving affects ability to drive and to make good decisions

Most Read