Cannabis retailers in British Columbia are facing product shortages amid an ongoing B.C. General Employees’ Union (BCGEU) strike.

Private retailers are not part of the strike. But having to buy their cannabis inventory from the government monopoly wholesaler negatively affects them.

The strike, into its second week, is beginning to empty store shelves.

Like Ontario, British Columbia relies on a government monopoly distributor. If the strike continues, the results may not be what they want. The unintended consequences for the striking government workers may be the dissolution of their monopoly wholesale bureaucracy.

Cannabis Shortages in B.C. – What Does the Union Want? 

Cannabis Shortages in B.C.
 FILE - B.C. General Employees' Union workers set up a picket line after going on strike at a B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch wholesale and distribution centre in Delta. Photo by RICHARD LAM /PNG

The BCGEU announced the strike, or “targeted job action” strike, on August 15th.

Representing 33,000 members, the union hopes to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with the B.C. provincial government.

The BCGEU announced picket lines at three distribution centres, a wholesale customer centre, and a cannabis customer care centre in Burnaby.

“Our members have been crystal clear since day one that their priority this round of bargaining was cost of living protection for their wages,” said Stephanie Smith, BCGEU president.

But while government workers demand more of your taxes, private retailers are dealing with the consequences of the strike.

Cannabis Shortages in B.C. – Private Retailers Left Out to Dry 

With nearly 400 private stores, the cannabis shortages in B.C. come at no fault to the operators. These private retailers must source their products from the non-market wholesaler.

As one private owner told Global, she has about “a week or two of healthy inventory.”

“It’s too restricted. It’s over-regulated and that actually is contributing to the healthy thriving status of the illicit cannabis industry that is still very much alive, especially in the Interior of British Columbia,” said Cannabis Cottage owner Mariana Wolff.

“It never should have been through distribution branch in the first place. I feel like retailers and their staff should have a better relationship with the producer,” said Cannabis Cottage budtender Jaimie Miller-Haywood.

“As an employee, I support workers’ rights but at the same time I’m also a worker and I don’t know if I’ll have a job next week. It’s concerning,” she told Global.

Green Gaia Cannabis Co. has temporarily closed its doors due to a lack of supply.

“Due to a lack of product availability and alternative options, our operating hours are being temporarily reduced. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause,” the retailer posted on Instagram.

It’s hard to find a private retailer happy with the status quo, especially now that the only wholesaler legally available to them is on strike. 

When Will the Strike End?

When will cannabis shortages in B.C. be a thing of the past?

Earlier this week, the BCGEU accepted a government offer to return to the bargaining table. A press release said they expect bargaining to resume soon. “But logistics are still being confirmed,” they said.

Although they called it a “significant development,” they also said, “In order to maintain that pressure, the union’s current job action will remain in effect until further notice.”

The 30 government-owned cannabis stores in the province remain open.

What is a Living Wage? 

The reason everything costs so much

Cannabis shortages aren’t unique to B.C. Ontario is going through a shortage for different reasons. And earlier this year, Quebec faced inventory issues when a similar cannabis-industry strike occurred in that province.

Quebec’s cannabis workers’ main complaint, like the BCGEU, involved demanding a “living wage.”

The concept of a living wage has entered the mainstream chat in recent years.

The idea is that your income should be able to provide a decent standard of living and be adjusted to compensate for inflation.

In a nutshell, providing a living wage means the worker has enough money to live beyond the poverty level, which in most places means making at least $ 17 an hour, plus benefits.

Of course, employers aren’t pocketing “surplus value” while leaving workers high and dry. The marginal productivity of labour determines wages.

The “living wage” proponents are concerned about rising living costs. But this is not some intrinsic property of the capitalist system. Inflation is government policy.

Even at the modest “2% inflation target,” your money’s value is halved in just 30 years.

A better solution would be ending inflationary policies at once. The “deflation” boogeyman is our Emmanuel Goldstein, Snowball, and Leon Trotsky.

In reality, deflation lowers the cost of living while retaining the purchasing power of our wages.