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Will BC Ever Kick the Grey Market?

Brick-and-mortar and online unlicensed dispensaries have always been a problem for British Columbia. Even with legalization pushing these illegal businesses into more of a grey market, they still prove to be a bane to licenced retailers who have to share their market, especially when the province won’t allow them to sell online and deliver direct to consumers.

According to retailers, these illicit retailers are heavily contributing to the already precarious cash flow in the industry, especially since many entrepreneurs have invested their savings and more into opening their doors and complying with the law. Licenced retailers are frustrated, understandably so, and say their complaints remain unheard by the RCMP and local and provincial governments that they claim are shuffling them back and forth with no solutions.

What Should Be Done?

The powers that be appear to be apprehensive to simply knock down the doors of these establishments, however, new legislation was enacted in July to hit illicit retailers where it hurts—their landlords. On July 13, 2020, the Lieutenant Governor and the Executive Council brought into force Section 80 of The Cannabis Control and Licensing Act which states, essentially, that landlords are prohibited from allowing their buildings to be used for the unauthorized sale of cannabis.

It’s unclear how, and if, this will be enforced, however, landlords found in violation of this could pay a fine of no more than $50,000 and potentially spend up to 12 months in jail.

NDP MLA for Nelson-Creston and co-founder of The Cannabis Conservancy Brittny Anderson has a different idea. As an advocate for better cannabis regulations, she has been campaigning to remove Section 37 of the Cannabis Regulations (which prohibits anyone with a criminal offence from obtaining a licence) and transition legacy cultivators into the legal framework.

According to Anderson, the province should lean into the culture of cannabis that existed long before legalization, and that not doing so is a disservice to not only legacy growers but BC as well.

“By enabling legacy growers to transition into the regulated market, improving and streamlining the sales process, and removing barriers that prohibit a place, including our province, from advertising themselves as a place to enjoy cannabis, I think we are moving in the right direction to ensure we live up to our BC cannabis legacy,” Anderson said in an interview with the oz.

It stands to reason that the same could be done for grey market retailers.

What Can Be Done?

There is obviously a lot of confusion on who is enforcing cannabis regulations, and how, and the strategy of law enforcement, governments, and regulators playing hot potato with this issue is only making the divide between private retailers and the province wider. Whether through the law or by bringing them into the fold, the best way to eliminate illicit dealers is with action. It may not be an easy task to uproot or transplant grey market retailers, but a little effort would go a long way in comforting licenced retailers and potentially discouraging illicit ones.