Two enforcement actions against BC Cannabis Stores

| David Brown

BC’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB) has conducted 20 inspections of its BC Cannabis Stores to ensure they check IDs since the beginning of legalization, compared to 277 in privately run cannabis stores in the province. 

The LCRB regularly inspects privately and publicly run cannabis and liquor stores in the province to ensure compliance with provincial rules, including administrative, public safety, and MAPs (checking IDs) inspections. 

LRCB has conducted 910 such inspections of private cannabis stores in the past 12 months (as of April 19, 2024). Of those, 277 were inspections undertaken as part of the provincial government’s Minors as Agents Program (MAP) to ensure cannabis stores are checking customer IDs, with the majority (263) taking place in the last year. Inspectors work with agents who are minors who then visit the store and attempt to purchase a product. 

If the employee at the store sells any cannabis to the minor, a second inspector enters the store to inform them of the violation and the possible repercussions, which can be a fine of several thousand dollars or temporary store closure. 

The Minors as Agents Program inspections of all cannabis retail stores in the province, both BC Cannabis Stores and private Cannabis Retail Stores (CRS), began in March 2023. Since then, the LRCB has issued at least eight penalties to stores following failed MAP inspections, with two enforcement actions related to MAP inspections at provincially-run BC Cannabis Stores.

Some stores have opted to pay a fine when found out of compliance, while others have opted to temporarily close their doors. A few stores that faced penalties successfully have argued their case in court, with no fines or other penalties applied. Most recently, Evergreen Cannabis in Vancouver successfully argued that the failure to check ID was an employee oversight, avoiding any formal penalty. 

The 263 MAP inspections of private stores represented 54% of all such stores in the province (currently around 470). There are 34 government-run BC Cannabis stores. The LRCB has taken enforcement action against two public stores that failed inspection.

While the results of enforcement action for a MAP visit to a private cannabis store are shared online, such information is not posted for the BC Cannabis Stores that faced similar penalties for failing to check for IDs.

Cory Waldron, the owner of Mood Cannabis, a retail store in Nanaimo and the President of the Licensed Retail Cannabis Council of BC (LRCCBC), told StratCann he doesn’t understand the double standard. While he supports such inspections, he would like to see government-run stores be treated the same as their privately-run counterparts. 

“With regard to the MAPS Program, and cannabis stores getting caught selling to minors, all retailers need to be accountable, whether it’s a BCCS Government store, or an independent retailer. If there were two government stores that were caught selling to minors, why are those two stores not on the publicized list of liquor and cannabis stores that were issued infractions? And what were the results of the hearings? Were they fined $7000, did they shut down their stores for one week, or did they even have a hearing?”

“These are important questions because, as a retailer where the government store is a competitor and also our supplier (through the BCLDB),” he adds, “transparency and a level playing field is important. If government stores are getting special treatment with regards to following regulations and disciplinary processes, this certainly does not reinforce trust between retailers and the BCLDB.”

Jaclynn Pehota, the Executive Director at LRCCBC, adds that such a high level of compliance for private stores is a positive sign and something retailers should be proud of while echoing Waldron’s calls for a level playing field when it comes to enforcement.

Jeff Guignard, the Executive Director at ABLE BC, which represents cannabis and alcohol retailers in the province, says that the rates of inspections of BC Cannabis stores, while lower than private stores, is still a fair approach given there are also fewer BC Cannabis Stores in the province.

“BC’s cannabis industry works very hard to have the right policies, procedures, and training in place to keep cannabis out of the hands of minors,” says Guignard in an email to StratCan.

“It may seem that government cannabis stores are inspected less often than private stores, but it’s fairly equal as a percentage of overall licenses. For example, there are over 10 times more private than government cannabis stores, so you’d expect to see about ten times as many inspections.”

Guignard says ABLE tracks such inspections across several sectors in BC, which is shown below: