British Columbia announced today that they have amended their regulations to allow private cannabis retail stores to sell non-medical cannabis products online, for pickup in store.
The change comes following previous changes to the provincial regulations following COVID-19 that have sought to better streamline retail sales for cannabis stores by allowing orders to be placed online, but paid for and picked up in-store.
Retailers in BC have long asked for the option for online sales or even delivery. The province says these changes will better help retailers compete with the illicit market.
According to the province, the new regulation will allow for payments to be made on a website, app or by telephone, limiting customer time in stores and permitting physically distanced pickup.
“We’ve heard from legal cannabis retailers that they want more tools to help increase competitiveness with the illegal market by allowing online sales,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. “By offering online sales for cannabis products, we can support the growth of a vibrant, legal cannabis industry, while also keeping public safety as our top priority.”
Sales online will be allowed any time of the day, but can only be picked up during normal operating hours.
Cassandra Wardrop, the Regional Manager at Flora Cannabis, says these changes are welcome ones that will help with COVID-related health concerns, and give also consumers more options. Flora currently has three locations in BC.
“This keeps people safer during the pandemic, by allowing them to not have to spend so much time in store,” Wardrop told StratCann. “But it also gives people more selection and more opportunity to get the product that is right for them.”
“I would anticipate that (allowing retailers to deliver) is on the way. It faces some of the issues that liquor has faced in terms of things like age verification, so I think they are being very cautious and taking baby steps to get there before opening up the market entirely.”Cassandra Wardrop, the Regional Manager at Flora Cannabis
Wardrop also says she also sees this newest change as one more step towards the possibility of retailers being able to sell online, as the province tries to figure out how to manage public health and safety concerns related to retailer-delivery.
“I would anticipate that (allowing retailers to deliver) is on the way,” says Wardrop. “It faces some of the issues that liquor has faced in terms of things like age verification, so I think they are being very cautious and taking baby steps to get there before opening up the market entirely. This market and this province and this country definitely like to take baby steps before running.”
Mary Anne Emmott, the owner at Alternative Aromatics, with one location on Quadra St. in Victoria and one in Esquimalt, says she thinks it’s another good step forward towards further loosening both provincial and federal regulations that can help allow retailers to succeed.
“It’s a great boon for us, because it is a struggle right now,” Emmott told StratCann. “We sell a product we have virtually no control over, it has a very high wholesale price, has a ridiculous level of taxation and a truly absurd level of governance, and you’ve got to be on top of your game to make a go of it in this business.”
“It’s not like the old days,” says the owner, who had also operated a cannabis retail store prior to legalization.
However, she says she’s not sure she sees the province allowing retailers to deliver to consumers and echoes some of the challenges expressed by Wardrop.
“I think that would be very hard to police, darned near impossible” explains Emmott. “If they’re trying to avoid selling to minors, delivery would not be the way to go. It would be a great for my business but I don’t know about the societal benefits.”
Despite the industry being more competitive for legal operators than the landscape was prior to legalization Emmott said business is good and changes like this will help.
“I’m very optimistic about this business,” says the owner. “I think there’s a lot of room for growth and a lot of room for polishing procedures, but I’m very optimistic about the future. I can see why they have to have these draconian measures in the beginning, because it’s easier to lessen those over time, but we do need to loosen it sooner rather than later.”
“This change responds to a request from private retailers as they continue to follow the mandates of the provincial health officer,” said David Eby, Attorney General in a government press release. “It supports public health and safety by reducing the amount of time customers need to spend in stores and allows them to remain physically distanced from employees and each other.”
An additional change will permit retailers with more than one store to accept prepaid gift cards at any of their locations or through their online system. Previously, these gift cards had to be used at the same location they were purchased.
“The fact that we can’t advertise is a huge hindrance. We have to be able to advertise. People want our products, but they cant find us if anything goes wrong with the way I’m listed (online). It makes it difficult that we don’t have typical advertising avenues available to us.”Mary Anne Emmott, the owner at Alternative Aromatics
Another change Emmott says she would like to see is retailers being given more opportunity to advertise. BC has strict rules for how cannabis retailers can advertise, in addition to federal regulations for marketing cannabis products.
“The fact that we can’t advertise is a huge hindrance,” she says. “We have to be able to advertise. People want our products, but they can’t find us if anything goes wrong with the way I’m listed (online). It makes it difficult that we don’t have typical advertising avenues available to us.”
She says she would also like to see Health Canada change their “absurd” packaging regulations for producers, and monthly reporting requirements for retailers.
“I’m sure all of this will change over time,” continued Emmot. “It took us about fifty years after prohibition ended to get any sensibility in to liquor regulation and now the are free and open compared to cannabis. And I think it’s easier for them to have draconian measures in the early stages and relax their grip over time than it is to do sensible stuff and then have to walk it back because of hysterical reaction from the public.”
Editor’s note: This article originally stated that Alternative Aromatics had a location on Quarda Island, the correct location is Quadra St in Victoria, BC.