Private cannabis retailer wants a level playing field for everyone

'Level the pot playing field'

Paying for non-medical cannabis products at private British Columbia dispensaries just got a little easier.

The B.C. government has decided to allow private cannabis retailers to sell their products online and over the phone, although in-store pickup is still required.

Previously, customers could only reserve non-medical pot online and were required to be physically present to pay for the product — unless you purchased from the government's own webstore. That changed on Tuesday, primarily because of concerns about transmitting COVID-19.

"This change responds to a request from private retailers as they continue to follow the mandates of the provincial health officer," said Attorney General David Eby.

Steven Jones owns and operates Cannabission in Kelowna's Mission and says he welcomes the move, but wishes that it had gone a little further.

"It does reduce the amount of time in the store, but essentially, you're just saving 15 seconds at the checkout."

Jones has been in business now for about a month and he says things have gone really well so far.

"The response from the community has been amazing we've had nothing but positive comments from people."

Jones says it's not easy being in the cannabis business and it's not necessarily the licence to print money that some may have thought it would be prior to legalization.

"As a local retailer, I want to do everything in my power to keep these government stores out of town if we can." Jones says he feels like he's competing against the black market, which hasn't gone away, the grey market of dispensaries operating on First Nations land and the government-run dispensaries.

"They kind of have a monopoly, they're supplying themselves. They are the only dispensaries that are allowed to sell online and ship to customers and they have the ability to spend $1 to $2 million on stores and they say they have plans to open another 200 stores across British Columbia, using taxpayer dollars to compete with me."

Jones says private dispensaries have to abide by BC Liquor Distribution Branch rules, "they provide us with all the product for our stores to sell. The edibles we sell are limited to 10 mg per package. The stores on First Nations land are not abiding by those rules. They're growing their own product, they're processing their own product and they're selling their own product."

First Nations say there was little consultation with them in how legal cannabis was rolled out, so many have pushed ahead with drafting their own cannabis bylaws and hosting unlicensed stores on reserve.

Jones says it's frustrating when the playing field isn't level, so he's hopeful that the Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers will be successful in lobbying the government into evening up the odds.

"My hope is to have a level playing field where everybody follows the same rules."

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