On-again, off-again direct delivery is back on

Published on August 26, 2022 by David Wylie

Photo: Twitter
BCGEU workers on the picket line on day 7 of job action outside of a wholesale distribution centre in BC.

On Friday afternoon, the BCLDB re-opened its registration process for producers to apply for direct delivery. No official announcement has yet been made, but a source tells the oz. it’s forthcoming.

It’s been nearly two weeks since job action by the BC Government Employees’ Union choked off the supply of legal cannabis from the province’s distribution centres.  Making matters worse for those in the legal cannabis industry, the province had stalled on direct delivery—which would have allowed producers to circumvent the BC Liquor Distribution Branch.

As of Thursday night, a number of cannabis producers told the oz. that the LDB’s Direct Delivery Program was no longer allowing companies to sign up or participate in the program, which was supposed to come into effect on Aug. 15.

Janeen Davis, national director of sales at Joint Venture Craft Cannabis, says her understanding is that the BC Public Service Agency directed the BCLDB to halt direct delivery, as well as the registration process.

She says Joint Venture realized something was wrong when their registration for direct delivery didn’t go through as quickly as initially advertised.

“What has happened is completely, profoundly troubling,” she says in an interview. “The cannabis industry has been completely abandoned by the government.”

  • RELATED: BC government union cuts off cannabis supply

While Davis says this could be some sort of misunderstanding of direct delivery as a whole, she also wonders whether this is simply to appease union members.

Davis asks what right the PSA and BCGEU have to disrupt private business.

“I believe there’s been a fairly severe overreach here,” she says, adding this could lead to a class-action lawsuit.

“They have breached their duty of care of our industry with their distribution monopoly, and it’s really sad we’re not even on their radar.”

The BC government won’t even confirm that direct delivery has been put on pause. In response to a request for confirmation and comment, the LDB Communications sent an emailed statement:

“Given the dynamic environment, and out of respect for the media blackout agreement between the BCGEU and the PSA, we are refraining from commenting on or discussing matters related to bargaining,” it says.

“Due to the current job action by the BC General Employees Union (BCGEU), the BC Liquor Distribution Branch’s liquor and cannabis distribution centres and wholesale customer care centres are closed.”

Fear spreads through BC cannabis community

Jamie Miller-Haywood, with Cannabis Cottage in Penticton, says the job action is upsetting.

“I’m scared. As well as being a budtender, I’ve been trying to be an advocate as well,” she told the oz.

Miller-Haywood also co-owns Haywood Design, a company that works with hempcrete.

Consumers depend on the trust of having a tested and regulated product, she says, adding those in the legal cannabis space have worked hard over the past three years to create a safe industry.

“It’s terrifying to see the cannabis industry crumbling like this. People are concerned that their community will be torn apart by situations that have nothing to do with them,” she says.

While Cannabis Cottage has seen its sales spike in the past week, it’s a double-edge sword; they had about three to four weeks’ worth of stock, but the increased sales will eat into the stock and shorten that timeline.

She says it takes small businesses about five years to gain enough traction to survive. “The whole industry is in year three, so everybody is in a precarious situation,” she says.

“It feels like a tragedy to me,” says Miller-Haywood. “For a strike that has absolutely nothing to do with us, we are at its mercy.”

Dozens of private stores around BC have shut their doors or are facing imminent closure, according to sources. Last week, the BCGEU made accusations that government stores were using a third-part service to deliver products.

Cannabis Cottage owner Mariana Wolff has drafted a letter to Liberal MLA Dan Ashton, who represents the Penticton riding. That letter has since been turned into a form letter that can be sent to other MLAs (get a copy here).

Cannabis producers hurt by job action

Vancouver-based cannabis company Zyre Brands was a victim of bad timing.

Founder Audrey Wang says they launched their full-spectrum vapes just two days before job action cut supply lines. They made it into just two stores before the BCGEU set up picket lines outside of distribution centres. Wang figures it would have been better if the job action happened even five days after her launch so she could at least have gotten more product into stores.

Photo: Contributed
Audrey Wang is founder of Zyre Brands. She previously worked with the BC Liquor Distribution Branch and BC Cannabis Stores.

It’s not a great time to be the “new kid on the block,” she says.

“I rely on word of mouth, and the summer months are an important time for that as people are getting together. Missing this period is very painful,” she adds.

PureFire Co. out of Penticton in the South Okanagan launched its first product in July.

Bill Lewis, who’s with the family owned and operated grower, says the company is sitting on 600 cases of product.

“It’s definitely concerning,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of product and we can’t do anything with it. I don’t know what to do about this.”

Lewis wonders why the government needs to have such a firm grip over cannabis distribution. He likens weed to wine, which can more freely promoted and sold directly to customers. He says he couldn’t imagine winemakers not being able to sample their own product before release—a regulatory challenge cannabis growers face.

Lewis says there’s strength in numbers and wants to see the cannabis industry band together more effectively.

“We need to try and get this where we don’t find ourselves in this situation again,” he says.

BC Chamber of Commerce weighs in on BCGEU job action

The BC Chamber of Commerce put out a statement this week about the BCGEU labour action and contract negotiations.

The statement, attributed to chamber president and CEO Fiona Famulak, calls job action at the distribution centres “another blow to the tourism, hospitality, accommodation and cannabis industries.”

Those industries are still trying to recover from the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions, the chamber notes.

“We understand the BCGEU is trying to put the best interests of its own members first, however, their labour action is putting thousands of private sector workers within the industries referenced above at risk,” says the statement.

“Our members are already reporting closures and reductions in hours due to the shortage of product and many more are precariously close to the same result.”

The job action risks driving consumers back to the illegal and unregulated market, it says, calling that “an extremely disappointing outcome for our burgeoning cannabis industry.”

At a minimum, the provincial chamber is calling for a de-escalation of job action.

The provincial BC Cannabis Stores site has stopped fulfilling online orders. However, its brick-and-mortar retail outlets are not impacted.

Both sides are expected to meet for further negotiations.