B.C. cannabis sector has ability to accelerate economic recovery, but is hampered by unreasonable policies

Last weekend marked the two-year anniversary of the legalization of adult-use cannabis in Canada, and was also the one-week countdown until British Columbians elect a new government.

Tomorrow, numerous issues are top of mind as voters cast their ballots: the challenges faced by our intrepid healthcare workers as they strive to keep us safe, how our schools and teachers will manage as our kids continue to settle into the school year amid a pandemic, the continuing opioid crisis, and, of course, the economic fallout that continues to impact businesses and workers in almost every sector across B.C.

Another issue facing whoever forms the next provincial government is an ever-increasing provincial deficit — currently predicted at around $12.5 billion and still rising. While there is no easy fix to the chaos caused by the pandemic, mindful spending on important societal issues, reducing red tape for businesses, and investing in emerging economies will help.

As we head to the polls and legal cannabis celebrates its two-year anniversary, one question government should be considering is: Does the emerging regulated cannabis sector have the potential to provide B.C. with the private sector growth our province needs?

Cannabis legalization came with lofty economic predictions and the promise of a proverbial “green rush,” yet the industry has yet to blossom. In order for cannabis to provide a “green rush” for an inclusive B.C. economy, government will need to allow for competition and remove limits to growth in the sector — as highlighted in the B.C. Chamber of Commerce economic recovery plan.

First order of business: repealing the worker qualification regulation — the requirement for cannabis employees to undergo extensive security screenings, adding time and cost to the hiring process — is a major impediment that is postponing store openings, limiting store hours and leaving businesses understaffed. Cannabis retailers currently have hundreds of jobs to fill and workers need work.

Security checks to keep organized crime out of cannabis company ownership are crucial, but this well-intentioned policy is limiting job growth for frontline employees. The answer is to streamline the regulatory burden and have the “selling it right” program replace the worker qualifications regulation.

Another factor limiting growth in this sector is the unfair ban on delivery for private retailers. Provincial stores currently sell their products online and deliver — as do unregulated market operators — yet private retailers have not been afforded the same opportunity. Allowing legal private retailers the opportunity to offer online sales and delivery will not only help increase revenues — as seen when Ontario legalized delivery — it will also allow the legal market to help push out the illicit market.

Prior to the election, the B.C. government indicated an openness to move on online sale and delivery and farmgate sales, but only for small producers. Their willingness to reform cannabis policies should be applauded. However, imposing seemingly arbitrary policies on small versus large companies puts additional limits on growth for the sector. Opportunities should be available to all sizes of business. A stronger B.C. economy is good for everyone.

The cannabis sector has the potential to legitimately accelerate the post-pandemic recovery. With reasonable regulations and policies, the sector is poised to provide much-needed jobs for workers, create thriving businesses for legitimate employers across B.C., improve health and safety for consumers, push out the illicit market, and increase tax revenue for a cash-strapped government.

As the political parties seek our votes tomorrow, it is important they consider every emerging opportunity that can support British Columbia. B.C.’s two-year-old cannabis sector is an emerging sector ready to be unleashed — it’s just waiting for a provincial government ready to take that step.

Dan Baxter, director of policy at the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, authored this opinion piece behalf of the Chamber’s B.C. Cannabis Working Group, it was published in the Vancouver Sun on October 23, 2020.

About the BC Chamber’s Provincial Cannabis Working Group

The BC Chamber’s Cannabis Working Group is comprised of some of Canada and British Columbia’s leading cannabis companies, and, organizations from other sectors. The group, co-chaired by Kiaro and Pure Sunfarms and supported by Loblaws, Deloitte, Tilray, and Tantalus Labs, aims to make cannabis an economic driver in B.C. while increasing consumer health and safety and displacing the illicit market.