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B.C. Cannabis retailers hopeful they will be deemed essential and stay open

The Kiaro cannabis store in Port Moody, B.C. (via Glacier Media)

British Columbian cannabis retailers are hopeful that cannabis dispensaries will be deemed essential businesses and be able to keep their doors open in the event of a province wide shutdown.

“If B.C. didn’t deem cannabis an essential business when other provinces have, I think it would be a total mess,” said Mike Babins owner of Evergreen Cannabis Store. 

British Columbia has yet to experience the wide-scale shutdown of business currently being legislated in Ontario and Quebec where only businesses deemed essential are allowed to stay open. Both provinces have deemed cannabis and liquor retail an essential business and allowed them to remain open. 

Cannabis retailers aren’t only hoping to be deemed essential for the sake of their own bottom lines, but also to help continue to cement the legal cannabis industry. Babins and Eleanor Lynch, President of Operations at the cannabis retailer Kiaro are both concerned that if cannabis retailers are forced to close as non-essential businesses it will create an opportunity for the black market to re-establish itself.  Not only could that be damaging for the industry but cannabis consumers could be at risk of other illnesses including COVID-19 itself, if the cannabis supply isn’t subject to the health and safety controls of the regulated market.

“I think Ontario has really set the bar, they responded quickly and made sure consumers had access to things they need while limiting access to things that are non essential,” said Lynch.

“I feel very confident that British Columbia will take the same approach.”

Ontario was not the first to deem cannabis an essential business. California and a number of other states have deemed either recreational or medicinal cannabis essential business. 

While the B.C. government has not yet had to determine if cannabis falls into the essential business category, they have made other moves to support the industry including allowing for online and phone cannabis orders that were not previously allowed. 

Despite this classification uncertainty, British Columbians haven’t started hoarding cannabis. While stores have reported an increase in sales, few have identified it as stockpiling behavior according to various retail owners in the industry.

“I will say [The B.C. government] was very proactive on that front,” said Lynch. “We were very happy that they moved so quickly and were so considerate of business interest, it wasn’t just cannabis.”

Kiaro has been busy over the past week working to implement its  online click and collect system, which is now up and running and others aren’t far behind. Muse Cannabis is still working on its online order system but it should be available shortly says president Geoff Dear. Some stores like Evergreen Cannabis Store have opted to rely on phone or email orders for its cannabis reservations according to Babins.

Multiple owners say it is unlikely that liquor stores would be allowed to remain open while cannabis stores are forced to closed. Both liquor and cannabis fall under the same control board, so owners believe they would not treat the substances differently.