STONE – Horgan’s handling of cannabis stores has become laughing stock

(Image: Mel Rothenburger)

MLA, Kamloops-South Thompson

IT HAS BEEN CLEAR since Oct. 17, 2018, that John Horgan’s NDP government did not have an effective plan in mind for the introduction of legal cannabis.

MLA Todd Stone.

Nine months in, the great green rush is off to a rough start here in B.C. Yearly revenue projections are down a staggering $53 million and Horgan’s handling of the shift to legal cannabis has quickly become a laughing stock across Canada, especially when compared to the progress made by previously prohibition-heavy provinces like Alberta and Manitoba.

Let’s start with the most obvious issue, which is the complete lack of private retail cannabis stores throughout most of B.C. To put the numbers into perspective, Alberta currently has 176 licensed stores province-wide, which easily dwarfs B.C’s pitiful 40 stores as of the middle of July. This is in stark contrast to the expectations laid out by the NDP government.

The black market is thriving, the legal market is sputtering and the NDP are, unsurprisingly, making it very clear that they could care less about the struggles of small business owners.

Dozens of private retail cannabis operators are severely disheartened and facing financial hardship. Small business folks around B.C. with legitimate applications are waiting upwards of eight months for provincial approvals.

These entrepreneurs are being forced to bleed money for leases and other costs they have incurred in good faith on the understanding set by the NDP that their approvals would be dealt with in an expeditious manner.

Many of these small business owners are now facing serious financial hardship as they watch the NDP dither and delay with no apparent rationale for doing so.

John Horgan willfully gave municipalities the option to decide whether to allow legal retail stores in their communities, which means if a local government opts out, there will be no local competition to the black market in that community.

One example is Surrey, which has voted to ban legal stores and has, in turn, pushed recreational cannabis consumers to the black market. The entire idea is preposterous, but here we are in John Horgan’s B.C., the joke of the Canadian cannabis industry.

The number one objective of legalizing cannabis – we were told – was to eliminate black market sales. There should be great concern that while the NDP sits idly by and refuses to approve permits to legitimate business owners, illegal sales will continue.

Municipalities that allow for legal retail sales are racing to pass regulations that allow for the establishment of a working retail framework. This is a multi-step process that routes back and forth between the province and municipalities several times, costs thousands of dollars and, apparently, takes months to complete.In contrast, government-run cannabis stores are allowed to circumnavigate the issue and strong arm local small business owners for their preferred retail location. There creates a clear competitive advantage for government, as it is not only in charge of issuing licences but also actively competing for those same licences. In some situations, government is even competing for the same storefront as private businesses.

Even John Horgan says government is doing a bad job on this file and has said that he is frustrated with the glacial pace of his government’s approval of licences for prospective cannabis stores. Rhetoric aside, it is he who continues to sit on his hands while dozens of applicants sit waiting for approval from his government.

The province is barely trickling out licences while swinging full might when they want a BC Cannabis Store location, all the while allowing illegal stores to compete in a legal market. Enough with being frustrated. It’s time for John Horgan to fix this mess.

Todd Stone is the MLA for Kamloops-South Thompson.

About Mel Rothenburger (8035 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

1 Comment on STONE – Horgan’s handling of cannabis stores has become laughing stock

  1. David Goar // July 15, 2019 at 7:54 AM // Reply

    I rarely agree with Mr. Stone, but his assessment and criticism are “ bang on” this time. If the primary goal of legalization is to eliminate, or reduce, black market attractiveness and criminal involvement, we are doing a spectacularly bad job of managing legalization in B.C. and elsewhere in Canada. Product pricing is of principal concern. If you want to eliminate the criminal black market, basic economics require that government sell the same product legally for the same price, or less than the black market.

    Sure,… abiding consumers will pay a slight premium for “legal” Cannabis products. But with a well established supply network already in place in B.C., that premium is much smaller than governments assume.

    It was probably inevitable that the “roll out” of a legal Cannabis regime, everywhere in Canada, would be fraught with “growing pains” But what has been happening with government involvement, at all levels, goes way beyond normal, anticipated, start up error.

    To begin, there is No room for partisan politics in this process, either in terms of awarding licenses, determining appropriate retail sites, or banning sale and distribution in certain communities completely. Second, it is imperative that government gets the economics right. Otherwise, government winds up competing with the black market that was supposed to be eliminated.

    One of BC’s natural advantages, upon which we ought to be capitalizing, is that there is a very well educated retail network of experienced business people, already in the business. Instead of using this resource, government is endeavouring to exclude these people. Some will be forced back into the black, or the grey, market. This makes no sense.

    In my opinion, the best example of a jurisdiction who made, and is making, an honest effort to get legalization done right is Colorado. We should be borrowing from their, mostly positive, experience.

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