Three years after legalizing non-medical cannabis, the province has had some success shifting consumers from the illegal market to the legal market.
But in an effort to bridge the gap that still exists, it recently launched a public awareness campaign, called Buy Legal, to encourage people to buy cannabis from government-sanctioned stores.
Citing the need to boost local economies and keep profits out of the hands of illegal operators and organized crime, boycott claims and a retrospective of legalization were analyzed by Brenton Rabe, an experienced Nelson advocate for cannabis who had been working in the industry.
The text also includes relevant excerpts from the regional news release from the Department of Public Safety and the Advocate General on Buy Legal about changes that have occurred over the past three years in relation to cannabis regulation.
“To help encourage more cannabis consumers in British Columbia to switch to the legal market from the illicit market, the government is launching Buy Legal, a public education advertising campaign that encourages people to buy cannabis from locally approved cannabis stores that offer regulated and tested products.”
The Nelson Daily – What are your thoughts on this programme?
Rabbi – I read the outline, but didn’t go through it in detail.
I’m not surprised that the county will run an advertising campaign hoping to attract customers.
They linked the campaign to the government’s claim that legal cannabis is safer and of better quality and branded all other sources as criminal. Many cannabis consumers view these claims with skepticism.
The province’s best way to increase sales and revenue with market savvy consumers is through affordable prices, quality, and proximity.
Regional and local governments had assumptions about revenue, land use planning, and the need and cost of implementation.
At the same time, some in local government are beginning to imagine programs that could be funded from getting their fair share. This wasn’t a good judgment, but it was fair enough in the transition.
The Federation of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) notes that a province was not forthcoming with its share of the federal excise tax and retail sales tax revenue distributed to local governments.
This may seem reasonable to the county as the cost and revenue assumptions add a more measurable balance.
I hope the legal cannabis business in British Columbia will grow, especially to include high quality organic options and grown in the sun.
Boycott – The value of the legal cannabis sector in British Columbia has more than quadrupled in the three years since Canada legalized non-medical cannabis.
The county now has the third largest number of legal retail cannabis stores and the second largest number of federal license holders in the country.
BC has 375 private licensed retail stores, as well as 30 general retail stores under the BC Cannabis Stores brand. Another 57 applications were approved in principle from across the province for private stores, as the government strives to assess, improve and tighten processing timelines for retail licensors.
To help encourage more cannabis consumers in British Columbia to switch to the legal market from the illegal market, the government is launching Buy Legal, a public education advertising campaign that encourages people to buy cannabis from locally approved cannabis stores that offer regulated and tested products. This campaign also emphasizes helping strengthen local economies and keeping profits out of the hands of illegal operators and organized crime. The ads contain one link to online resources, including a map of legal sellers: https://justice.gov.bc.ca/lcrb/map
“This (Buy Legal) campaign also emphasizes helping strengthen local economies and keeping profits out of the hands of illegal operators and organized crime.”
TND – Would that be the case?
Rabe – I think the boycott could better strengthen local economies by relaxing regulations and allowing more people to participate in a diversified market that isn’t just driven by retail sales.
The assumption of massive profits has been proven wrong. This calculation occurs in the illegal market as well as in the legal market. It is an inevitable correction.
TND – How does this campaign boost local economies more than it did?
Rabi – This campaign may not boost local economies significantly.
Cannabis policy in the provinces began with broad, arbitrary, and strategic prohibitions. There is nowhere to go but improvement.
This campaign suggests that beneficiaries will do so through rewards and licenses. Not the way government should work: giving extra permission and benefits to some but not others.
The county has made some substantive moves toward amending the regulations and considering input from a wide range of stakeholders.
Allowing retail and product-to-consumer delivery and simplifying the wholesale distribution process are positive steps the province is taking.
Some municipalities are still overly restrictive and should also start reviewing their cannabis regulations.
As Tracy Harvey noted in her 2021 dissertation “Where I Live in the Kootenays Hemp is a transitional economy. Valuing local culture and knowledge will enable successful economic transformation.” *
My region’s economy will benefit from cannabis regulations and opportunities that take better account of local inputs and have been less restrictive than the above. Results can include entrepreneurial success, increased legal retail sales and more legitimacy among consumers.
In order to have the best regulations, the county must engage in collaborative governance. The government should consider the input of citizens, including many who were reluctant to participate.
Broad participation in the review of regulations may help the county government realize that the cannabis community is not just about money. There is a culture that must be allowed to emerge and flourish.
The weed of greed and the need for reconciliation. Tracy Harvey, August 2021, University of Guelph; Pages 7-8 for economies in transition.
Province – BC is developing programs for direct delivery and sales via the farm portal, which will be launched in 2022. These programs will help smaller cannabis producers market products faster and build brand recognition. As of October 8, 2021, British Columbia had a total of 192 federal license holders, including 55 small producers and 13 nurseries.
Also in 2020, in response to requests from cannabis retailers, BC eliminated the requirement that cannabis stores (CRS) be surrounded by opaque walls.
In August 2020, BC moved to allow CRS to sell its products online or by phone for in-store pickup.
Since July 15, 2021, British Columbia has allowed all cannabis-licensed retailers to deliver non-medical cannabis products directly to adult consumers in their homes and other locations, giving consumers additional ways to purchase from a legal source in their communities.
“…and keeping profits out of the hands of illegal operators and organized crime.”
TND – Has there been a lot of organized crime involved in the industry, and has it been curtailed through its legalization?
Rabi – After 9-11 BC, cannabis was often mediated to levels involving people motivated by money and power. These people had a narrow and limited relationship with the cannabis plant and cannabis cultivation.
Learning about and recovering from past links with crime and trauma from enforcement can be intense and very personal. We are connected to the truth and reconciliation process. Illegal cannabis profits are now lower than ever.
Harvey (p. 116) noted that “the Southeast region, which included the Kotnaise, had the lowest representation of organized crime across the entire county” in 2019 (p. 116).
The regulated market and the illegal market compete with overproduction and correction from years of overpricing.
District – Since the British Columbia Community Safety Unit (CSU) went into operation and began education and enforcement efforts with unlicensed cannabis retailers, the unit has completed more than 70 inspections including confiscation of cannabis, with an estimated total retail value of approximately $20 million removed from the drug illegal market.
To date, 173 unlicensed retailers have either closed or stopped selling cannabis as a direct result of CSU’s actions.
As of October 4, 2021, the district has collected more than $1.2 million in penalties from illegal retailers who choose to continue operating after initial educational visits from CSU members.
Quality and quantity
TND – Has legalization improved as well as access to non-medical cannabis?
Raby – Federal legalization has improved access to non-medical cannabis.
At the same time, some existing local regulations contributed to false scarcity, inflated prices and average quality for consumers.
Regional regulatory barriers and prohibitions must be re-examined and reduced. This is what BC promised during the early rush to hyperregulation.
The county has delegated much of regulated cannabis to local governments. In some places in British Columbia, legal cannabis has been excluded by local government regulations. Over-regulation at the local level has led to widespread bans with proposals seeking variations and exceptions to bylaws or excluding them entirely.
This is not a sound judgment.
The City of Nelson arbitrarily designated the entire commercial district east of Josephine Street as a “cannabis-free zone”. The mayor of Nelson assured the public at the time the cannabis regulations were passed more than three years ago that the regulations would be reviewed. Passing hasty regulations and later correcting them was the described process. I was naive in believing this promise.
Three years in review
TND – How did you look at the past three years as an “insider”? How could things go differently, and how would things go?
Rabbi-legalization is the result of years of primacy in law and the tireless work of many activists.
I’m not sure I can claim to be an “insider”. I am a cannabis consumer and political activist.
As an example I will use Part 6 of the British Columbia Cannabis Control Regulation, Section 37. This regulation prohibits the cannabis community from promoting or marketing anywhere they go to consume cannabis or even go after ingesting cannabis.
It is a ban on the ability of an entire society to express and celebrate itself. It was formulated from bias.
The county has indicated that it will review prohibitions under Section 37 and consider allowing consumption spaces. It’s been a long way to get to this point.
Finally, I think the ongoing issue is equating cannabis with alcohol. Cannabis provides people with relief from many conditions, it can be enjoyable and the harms associated with it are minimal.
This becomes evident when considering alcohol costs in British Columbia, outlined in the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research Policy Brief 2021* regarding alcohol consumption on municipal property:
“Alcohol consumption rates in British Columbia are above the national average and have been steadily increasing since 2013.
Alcohol is a causative agent of more than 200 chronic diseases and acute conditions It was responsible for an estimated 19,172 hospitalizations and 2,380 deaths in British Columbia in 2017.. These damages affect not only the lives of alcoholic drinkers, but also their families, friends, workplaces, and communities.
The economic costs of alcohol consumption in British Columbia are also significant. In 2017, alcohol use cost British Columbians an estimated $2.38 billion, overtaking tobacco as the most expensive substance. There was an estimated $838 million in direct health care costs related to alcohol, $989.7 million in lost productivity related costs, and $311.4 million in criminal justice costs.Part of it directly affects the budgets at the municipal level. Alcohol-related costs are expected to rise with increased alcohol consumption from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
* https://www.uvic.ca/research/centres/cisur/assets/docs/policy-brief-municipal-unsupervised-alcohol- Consumption. pdf, Policy Briefing, July 13, 2021