Article by Val Litwin, The Province
OPINION: With regulations and policies that mirror those of liquor distribution, the cannabis sector can provide hundreds of jobs and create thriving businesses for legitimate employers.
B.C.’s legal cannabis stores are ready to put hundreds of unemployed retail employees back to work quickly. They’re also well positioned to generate thousands of dollars in tax revenue if they were allowed to accept online orders and deliver to your door.
Unfortunately, burdensome regulations mean cannabis retailers are struggling to find workers and are being forced to compete with illegal dealers. At the same time, the provincial government is bleeding money in COVID-19 support benefits and is understandably loath to raise taxes to generate much-needed tax revenue.
Since March, the economic fallout from COVID-19 disproportionately hit the retail sector, leaving thousands out of work. In early May, B.C. Finance Minister Carole James confirmed almost 400,000 jobs were lost in B.C. in the first two months of the pandemic. Over 264,000 positions were eliminated in April alone, with 47 per cent of those in the food service and retail sectors.
Meanwhile, cannabis retailers have hundreds of jobs to fill. Sounds like a no-brainer: Workers need work, and there are jobs waiting — so what’s the problem?
But overly restrictive policies and regulations in the cannabis sector are keeping furloughed employees on government programs, depressing the earnings of B.C.’s regulated cannabis industry, and inadvertently protecting the illicit market.
Inefficient regulations were a problem in B.C. before COVID-19 shut down businesses. Since legalization, we’ve seen a snail’s pace roll out of retail cannabis outlets — especially in Lower Mainland municipalities.
The worker qualification regulation — the requirement for cannabis employees to undergo extensive security screenings, adding time and cost to the hiring process — is a major impediment that is postponing store openings, limiting store hours and leaving businesses understaffed. An easy solution would be to replace the worker qualification program with requirements parallel to the alcohol industry. This would expedite hiring and create a simple solution for workers needing jobs, retailers needing staff and governments needing money.
As of now, the hiring process for a single front-counter job at a cannabis retail store takes up to three months. The B.C. government’s June 18 announcement of the new selling it right program — a self-study course required for retail cannabis workers — has added another layer of cost and complexity to an already burdensome process.
In the near term, the B.C. government has made it more difficult (and expensive) to gain employment in the sector. It now costs a worker $135 ($100 worker verification plus $35 for selling it right) to apply to work in a cannabis store, a likely barrier for many unemployed retail workers collecting COVID-19 worker benefits.
The cost of hiring a liquor store or bar employee is only $35 for the serving it right certification, the liquor industry’s equivalent course.
What would make sense is to have the selling it right program replace the worker qualifications regulation.
The legal cannabis sector is also unfairly banned from online sales and deliveries. Meanwhile, provincial stores sell their products online, and deliver — as do Illicit market dealers who are impossible to regulate and bring in no revenue for the province. Online sales and delivery for private retailers would ensure consumers receive properly labelled, authorized products — and create the best possible circumstances for social distancing.