Concerns over illegal cannabis stores go unanswered

Published on October 22, 2020 by David Wylie

Mike Farnworth
Mike Farnworth tours the first BC Cannabis Store location in Kamloops in 2018.

On the cusp of a BC election, none of the major parties want to talk about the thorny issue of shutting down illegal dispensaries.

Cannabis retailers have been expressing frustration over a lack of enforcement when it comes to unlicensed dispensaries prevalent throughout Interior BC. They argue they are losing money and are increasingly at risk of going out of business after investing their life’s saving into the costs of complying with the law.

Meanwhile, unlicensed stores and websites selling unlicensed products are doing business in plain sight.

None of the three big parties or their leaders answered requests from the oz. for an interview or statement on where they stand on the issue. BC residents go to the polls on Saturday, Oct. 24.

Emails obtained by the oz. show retailers have been trying to work with officials and communicating their concerns with the RCMP’s Community Safety Unit and the BC Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, but they’re being bounced back and forth. Government defers to the RCMP, while the RCMP defers to the government—and nobody claims responsibility.

“If you have not spoken to the MLA or MP about your concerns that may be an option as well,” says one RCMP staff sergeant in the email chain.

Yet, an email from NDP Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth says it’s not up to him.

“The province does not provide operational direction to police forces,” he states.

Farnworth told them he’s “sympathetic to the alleged impacts” on their business, and he acknowledged storefront and online illegal operators are an ongoing problem.

However, he rejected proposed financial aid measures to help legal stores, saying it would be impossible to determine which particular legal retail operators are actually impacted.

The RCMP has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Barely any attention to paid cannabis

Cannabis is becoming an increasingly important legal market in BC, with companies in the industry employing thousands of people throughout the province in retail, production, and service.

Yet it hasn’t received much attention in the election at this important junction.

There is no mention of cannabis in the BC Liberals platform. Though the BC Liberals have promised to cut the PST, that doesn’t include most cannabis products.

The Green Party platform mentions it once in their ‘Food Secure BC’ strategy, but it’s short on details: “Enabling the growing of high value crops, such as cannabis, to supplement farm income.”

The BC NDP have announced some policies that would support the nascent industry, including direct delivery from producers to retailers, as well as farm-gate cannabis that would allow consumers to buy from producers on-site.

There are also continuing problems that have not yet been addressed, such as speeding up the licensing process. Some of those trying to go the legal route have been waiting more than a year for their provincial approval as they continue to pay their leases and other costs without being able to sell.

NDP candidate Brittny Anderson has taken issue in her campaign over Section 37 of the BC Cannabis Control Regulation, which prohibits the promotion of any place to consume or to spend time after consuming cannabis. That significantly limits the ability for the cannabis industry to thrive, and in many cases limits potential business owners to operate all together, she said.

“In British Columbia, and specifically in the Kootenays, there is a historical legacy of cannabis cultivation and a clear acknowledgment that the cannabis industry is a pillar of our regional economy,” she says.

One issue that some candidates from all parties do agree on is ending background checks for cannabis store employees.