It’s been about two weeks since job action by the BC Government Employees’ Union choked off the supply of legal cannabis to both private and provincial stores.
Now the province has halted direct
delivery, which would have allowed producers to circumvent the BC Liquor Distribution Branch and get pot to people.
A number of cannabis producers have confirmed that the LDB’s direct delivery program is 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, said her understanding is that the BC Public Service Agency directed the BCLDB to halt direct delivery, as well as the registration process.
She said Joint Venture, located in Salmon Arm, realized something was wrong when their registration for direct delivery didn’t go through as quickly as expected.
“What has happened is completely, profoundly troubling,” she said in an interview. “The cannabis industry has been completely abandoned by the government.”
While Davis says this could be some sort of misunderstanding of direct delivery as a whole, she also wondered whether this is simply to appease union members.
Davis asked what right the PSA and BCGEU have to disrupt private business.
“I believe there’s been a fairly severe overreach here,” she said, 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 B.C. government remained mum on the issue.
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 said. “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.”
Jamie Miller-Haywood, with Cannabis Cottage in Penticton, said 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 said.
Consumers depend on the trust of having a tested and regulated product, she said, 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 said.
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 supply and shorten that timeline.
She said 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 said. “It feels like a tragedy to me. For a strike that has absolutely nothing to do with us, we are at its mercy.”
Mood Cannabis Co. chief executive Cory Waldron had to lay off 17 workers – 90 per cent of staff – at his two Nanaimo stores on Thursday because they weren’t receiving deliveries from the BCLDB.
“There was lots of tears. We’ve had a lot of our staff with us since the day we opened back in 2020, so it’s really sad,” he said.
“Some of those people will not be able to come back because they cannot wait for employment insurance... so they have to find other jobs.”
Waldron said he knows of at least 40 stores that have closed already and believes that number could double by the end of Friday.
BCGEU spokeswoman Jasleen Arora declined to discuss the matter.
Cannabis producers are also suffering.
Vancouver-based cannabis company Zyre Brands was a victim of bad timing.
Founder Audrey Wang said 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.
It’s not a great time to be the “new kid on the block,” she said.
“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 added.
PureFire Co., out of Penticton, launched its first product in July.
Bill Lewis, who’s with the family owned and operated grower, said the company is sitting on 600 cases of product.
“It’s definitely concerning,” he said. “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 wondered why the government needs to have such a firm grip over cannabis distribution. He likened weed to wine, which can more freely promoted and sold directly to customers. He said he couldn’t imagine winemakers not being able to sample their own product before release—a regulatory challenge cannabis growers face.
Lewis said 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 said.
The BC Chamber of Commerce put out a statement this week about the BCGEU labour action and contract negotiations.
“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,” said the statement.
The job action risks driving consumers back to the illegal and unregulated market, it said, calling that “an extremely disappointing outcome for our burgeoning cannabis industry.”
The union resumed bargaining earlier this week, but a settlement has yet to be reached.
If the job action continues, 70 per cent of legal pot retailers in the province will have closed their doors by Aug. 30, estimated Jaclynn Pehota, executive director of the Retail Cannabis Council of BC.
— with files from The Canadian Press