Vending machine at the BC Pain Society in Vancouver, B.C. (Ben Nelms/CP)

First Look at BC’s new rules for Cannabis Retail

Today, BC unveiled its licensing guidelines for anyone interested in opening a non-medical cannabis business, and it’s organized into five main categories:

  • Eligibility
  • Licences
  • Operations
  • Inspections and Compliance
  • Rural Areas

Let’s take a look at the rules and find out who’s eligible as we explore how it shapes BC’s cannabis landscape with the latest updates on consumption lounges, online sales, operating hours, compliance and enforcement options, and more.

Applying and Eligibility

BC looks like it will have one of Canada’s most accessible cannabis markets when applications open in the spring. The government will launch an online application portal, and application and licensing fees will be determined later (check here).

In terms of eligibility, operating an illegal dispensary or having a criminal record will not automatically bar you from a licence- that will be determined on a case by case basis. Liquor and tobacco licensees will not get an automatic cannabis licence. 

Also, your business name must be approved by the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) because non-medical retailers cannot use the words “pharmacy”, “apothecary”, and “dispensary” because of the medical connotations.

Having interests in both licensed producers and retailers will be allowed, but if there is a close association between a retailer and LP, the retailer is prohibited from selling that LP’s products. to ensure larger producers don’t dominate the market.

It’s worth noting that in BC, the application fee for a Liquor Primary licence is $4400 with an estimated processing time of 7-12 months, while dispensaries in Vancouver pay a $30,000 annual licencing fee! The 7-12 month processing time for a Liquor Primary licence does not bode well for prospective cannabis retailers, as BC will certainly be facing a massive backlog as the application process doesn’t even open until mere months before legalization.


BC will have two non-medical retail licences, one for self-contained cannabis stores and the other for stores in rural communities.

Medical cannabis retail will remain online and for LP’s only, although medical users can buy from non-medical stores, which will help ensure reasonable access for medical users.

Local governments have the authority to regulate stores, which includes whether to allow them in the first place, in addition to settings caps on licenses and location requirements. Some question whether that is giving the local governments too much power.

Consumption lounges will not be licensed, at least not yet, and offsite sales at festivals and other events may be considered in the future.


Cannabis stores must be self-contained businesses although there will be exceptions for rural stores, and the hours of operation will be from 9am-11pm, unless otherwise specified by local government. For comparison, most liquor stores in BC open between 9:30am-11am and close between 9pm-11pm.

Unlike liquor stores, minors are banned from entering cannabis stores, even if they are accompanied by a parent or guardian. To further protect impressionable youth, cannabis products cannot be visible from outside.

The government is still considering security requirements and pricing, and there will be no delivery services and no consumption onsite.

Online retail will be controlled by the government.


The Liquor Distribution Branch controls wholesale cannabis distribution, meaning retailers MUST buy from the LDB. They cannot buy from licensed producers directly.

In reaction to this, cannabis activist Marc Emery, the Prince of Pot, commented on Twitter that, “It’s over as far as retail viability is concerned”, going on to say that, “If you must sell the same as all other retail stores -what’s the point? What value is a reputation if all other retail outlets have the identical inventory? [This is] marijuana retail hell.”

Furthermore, arrangements like exclusive access to a product or paying for preferential shelf space are not allowed. Edibles are still banned and will be regulated 12 months after legalization.

In terms of products, in addition to cannabis flower, oil, and seeds, retailers can sell cannabis accessories “like rolling papers or wraps, holders, pipes, water pipes, bongs and vaporizers… [but they] cannot sell snacks, tobacco or other non-cannabis related items.”

All products will be distributed in pre-packaged, ready-to-sell formats.

Inspections and Compliance

The LCLB will inspect your store once a year and whenever it receives a complaint. Penalties for being out of compliance are still being developed, and options being explored include fines and licence suspensions and cancellations.

Rural Areas in BC

Allowing existing businesses (such as a pharmacy or liquor store) to sell non-medical cannabis in rural areas is being considered by the government, much like the rural liquor store system, known as the Rural Agency Store model.


Featured image courtesy of Maclean’s’


Province of BC: BC Cannabis Private Retail Licensing Guide.