The battle over who gets to sell cannabis in BC is on, and liquor stores are pushing hard to be the exclusive sellers of legal recreational cannabis- but prominent BC doctors and the majority of the cannabis industry are against them.
While the government has put the BC Liquor Distribution Branch in charge of wholesale distribution, the province also announced it will allow private and public sales of cannabis, and many assume that the retail system for cannabis will be similar to BC’s hybrid liquor model.
In BC’s hybrid liquor retail model, private and public liquor stores are competitors, but on the issue of cannabis, they are united and calling for a complete monopoly on retail sales.
Why liquor stores want a monopoly on recreational cannabis sales
Liquor stores want to be BC’s exclusive cannabis retailers so badly that ABLE BC (which represents BC’s private liquor industry) and the BCGEU (the union that represents BC Liquor workers) have joined forces to form the Responsible Marijuana Retail Alliance of BC.
Why? According to recent studies like Helping Settle the Marijuana and Alcohol Debate: Evidence from Scanner Data, states that legalized recreational cannabis saw a decrease in alcohol sales by 13% on average.
Liquor stores are trying to protect their market share and bottom line, and what better way to insure themselves against any potential loss in alcohol sales to cannabis than being the exclusive retailers of cannabis, too?
If that ends up happening, the liquor industry won’t have to worry about consumers substituting cannabis for alcohol because they get the sale either way.
Liquor stores claim they’re qualified to sell cannabis, but are they?
The executive director of BC’s private liquor association, Jeff Guignard, told Global News a few reasons why he thinks liquor stores are best suited for recreational cannabis sales, saying that employees are “already trained to ID people and are required to take the province’s Serving It Right program”.
But knowing how to ID people isn’t a particularly difficult or rare skill- just ask to see ID, like hundreds of convenience store clerks, waitresses, bartenders, and bouncers do every single day- and the Serving It Right program has almost nothing to do with cannabis (although, full disclosure, it does briefly mention the symptoms of mixing cannabis with alcohol on their website).
The president of the BCGEU told Global News that “if the province doesn’t opt for distribution through liquor stores, it would have to create an entirely new parallel structure — which would be both costly and a risk to public safety.”
But what the BCGEU president failed to mention is that this “entirely new parallel structure” already exists in the hundreds of dispensaries located in Vancouver alone- some of which have been operating for decades, and a dozen of which are licensed by the city.
Doctors speak out!
While some doctors still have their doubts about cannabis, there is one area where cannabis advocates and two of BC’s most well-known doctors agree- that liquor stores shouldn’t sell cannabis.
Dr. Perry Kendall, BC’s Chief Provincial Health Officer, and Dr. Marcus Lem, the chairman of the Health Officers of BC, explained their opposition in a recent Op-Ed in the Vancouver Sun.
The doctors believe that “co-sale might be seen to condone and encourage co-use of cannabis and alcohol”. while also noting that “many people use cannabis for medical purposes and other reasons, including past history of having problems with alcohol, and they may not wish to enter liquor stores to purchase cannabis.”
The doctors also said that “placing and selling cannabis in liquor stores would lead to a larger proportion of the population being introduced to cannabis, including many who might not otherwise encounter it”, which puts them at odds with the cannabis advocates that call for cannabis to be just as accessible as alcohol.
In the midst of all this, there are increasing calls, including from BC’s former health minister, for more research into how cannabis can help fight the opioid crisis as a non-lethal substitute for harder substances.