Okanagan cannabis retailers feel ‘squeezed out’ by illicit operators, public stores: survey

A survey published Nov. 9, 2021 by the Okanagan Cannabis Collective and the Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers found that 60 per cent of legal B.C. retailers feel their business is no longer viable due to the number of illegal and public stores in operation. (File photo)

Private cannabis retailers in B.C. fear their business is no longer viable given the proliferation of public stores and illicit operators, a survey conducted by Okanagan shops found.

A group of private cannabis retailers known as the Okanagan Cannabis Collective (OCC) teamed up with the Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers (ACCRES) to conduct the industry survey, which was published Nov. 9. The survey found that roughly 60 per cent of legal retailers in B.C. believe their business is no longer viable.

The survey also found that private cannabis stores are being squeezed out by municipal policies that allow too many stores to exist in close proximity.

“The general public should be quite concerned about how the province is handling the file,” said Jaclynn Pehota with ACCRES. “It’s becoming more clear that numerous privately run cannabis stores will be forced to close their doors. These are businesses run by local residents who are invested in their communities.”

According to the survey, 90 per cent of legal retailers say they are in direct competition with illegal operators, and 75 per cent say those retailers are having a significant negative impact on their business.

The proliferation of illegal pot shops was noted by survey respondents; sixty per cent said they have witnessed illegal operators open up within the past year.

“The finding that I found most concerning is that of those retailers that contacted the Community Safety Unit (CSU) regarding these illegal operations, 90 per cent say they have seen no enforcement action,” said Sarah Ballantyne, owner of Vernon’s SpiritLeaf cannabis store and spokesperson for the OCC.

The OCC also says private retailers are losing staff and customers to the government-run stores.

“The fact that the province refuses to enforce the law is one thing, but to then have them open taxpayer-funded businesses that are clearly operating at a loss will be the nail in the coffin for many private retailers,” said Ballantyne.

The OCC and ACCRES called on the province to eliminate the 15 per cent wholesale markup on purchases from licenced producers, cease the expansion of public stores, mandate distancing requirements and adhere to the law with respect to enforcement.

“If the province fails to take action, many legal retailers will close their doors within the next year,” the two groups stated.

The OCC has been vocal about the need to crack down on the illicit market in recent weeks. In an open letter published in October, the group called for the resignation of Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.

“It is through his failed leadership that the industry has experienced unnecessary hardships in particular as it relates to the proliferation of illegal brick and mortar and illegal online cannabis stores,” the letter addressed to Premier John Horgan reads.

“While it is said that eliminating the illegal market is your government’s number one mandate, it would appear that your government is more interested in undercutting private legal retail cannabis stores through your taxpayer subsidized operations than achieving this goal through actual enforcement measures.”

To emphasize its point, the group created a Google Map document highlighting the locations of 35 known cannabis stores in B.C. operating without a licence.

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