It appears to be business as usual for many unlicensed BC cannabis retailers, as they continue to operate while waiting on various levels of government to license the new legal economy. To date, only four private retailers have been licensed in BC, and across Canada less than 30 applications have been made for the new federal micro-cultivator license. If you’re looking around and wondering where all the new cannabis retail stores are, and when BC’s famous craft cannabis will be available legally, you are not alone. Key players in the industry are wondering the same thing.

While some might see these delays as a failure of the BC government to provide a rapid roll-out of legalization, the political situation is more nuanced. In this instance, the province should be commended for taking a more careful route toward legalization. Provincially licensed retailers must obtain municipal approval to secure proper zoning, and many local governments are still deciding on their approval process. The BC government’s approach is one that allows local voices to be heard, and gives municipalities the power to decide where producers and retailers are to be located.

 

The provincial government is also certainly paying close attention to the severe shortages of legal cannabis licensed retailers throughout the rest of the country are experiencing. When BC brings Vancouver and Victoria online to the legal supply chain, these same shortages would be seen in BC unless a pathway can be found to quickly bring BC’s small-scale cannabis producers into the legal market.

 

Many in the existing BC cannabis industry are critical of long wait times for the issuance of the new class of micro-cultivator licenses, and the significant barriers to entry faced by small-scale growers looking to get into the legal market. The federal government garnered support for legalization by framing it in terms of public health, and they have given the mandate to Health Canada to regulate, inspect, and assure the quality of legal cannabis. Health Canada cannot simply lower standards for quality assurance and control in order to lower the barriers to entry faced by BC producers, but a simpler method of production licensed could be found if the province exercised its authority under Section 92 of the Constitution Act to regulate business undertake exclusively within the province.

 

The BC government sees the enormous economic potential of integrating the existing grey market economy into the legal regime. They equally see the danger of losing their local economy to industrial-scale producers from other provinces that are already licensed by Health Canada.

 

If the province decides to take matters into their own hands to expedite the transition of illegal growers to the new regime, they will face some hurdles. In an emerging industry with complex regulation, a move to regulate cannabis production provincially won’t be an immediate silver bullet, but it may serve to protect the industry that made BC Bud a global brand.

 

It is well within the province’s jurisdiction to regulate the production of cannabis that is sold exclusively within the province, just as it does with alcohol, however its regulations would have to comply with the Cannabis Act. This would mean creating a provincial regulatory regime that conducts criminal background checks on applicants, strictly enforces quality assurance, manages recalls, approves products and packaging, processes license applications in a timely fashion, vets security plans, and takes on the burden of regulating good manufacturing and production practices through clear standards and inspections.

 

Another significant hurdle is the issue of municipal zoning of cannabis production. The province could help speed up the process by providing leadership to municipalities by drafting a suggested template for local government’s land use regulations for cannabis micro-cultivation to help open zoning for small-scale producers, as many have already requested. The province would have to tread lightly to not alienate local residents, but the pay-off could be the creation of a vibrant, rural economy of small scale legal craft cannabis producers and the vindication of the BC government’s approach, as we prove we are the very best cannabis growers in the world.

 

- The BC Independent Cannabis Association