Minister says legislative changes coming to tackle black market pot

Illegal sellers have moved online and away from brick and mortar stores

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By Corvin Vaski

Legislative changes are needed to help combat illegal cannabis sales in B.C., Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said in an interview.

The Community Safety Unit – the B.C. agency enforcing the current cannabis law – began operating three years ago. Since then, CSU officers have made 270 visits to unlicensed cannabis retailers and 175 have either closed or stop selling. But black market online sales have been a hurdle for the CSU.

Cracking down on illicit online cannabis

“The other challenge that we’re seeing now and there’s some work being done in my ministry on that – I’m looking at some legislative changes – what we’re seeing is moving away from the brick-and-mortar stores to online,” Farnworth told Langara Voice reporters.

Amending the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act could help the CSU be more effective against illicit online pot retailers.

The criminal sellers “figure out other ways and we are also figuring out other ways,” Farnworth said. “Changes are coming that are going to allow us to be more effective in terms of dealing with the online stores.”

Licensing stickers on local Vancouver cannabis dispensary. Photo: Corvin Vaski.

Legal sellers battle for customers

This comes at a time when many legal cannabis retailers have expressed frustration competing with illegal sellers. Jaclynn Pehota, Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers (ACCRES) executive director, has seen this frustration firsthand.

“There’s a sense that the unregulated market remains very strong in B.C., and that competing with them is quite challenging, many of the licence holders, people in the legal system would like to see the CSU be more aggressive with illegal operators,” Pehota said.

ACCRES represents 58 different brands across the province and has a large presence when it comes to dealing with the CSU, but smaller shops have found it difficult trying to get the agency to follow up on tips about illegal operators.

“It can be frustrating if you have a store and you’re trying to get them to address something like an unregulated store or delivery services or whatever. I have heard that that is quite frustrating for the average person,” Pehota said.

The public safety ministry said in an emailed statement that the CSU aims for voluntary compliance and makes educational visits to unlicensed retailers to give information about becoming a legal retailer.

When retailers resist getting licensed, they can be faced with seizures of products and monetary penalties from the CSU.

“Despite the fact that they’re in violation of the way that it is supposed to be sold and distributed. It’s still a legal substance that we’re dealing with. So clogging up the legal system doesn’t seem to be a particularly appealing solution,” Pehota said.

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