British Columbia

Cannabis retailers in B.C. seek green light to deliver pot and compete with illegal dealers

In the Lower Mainland alone, there are hundreds of illegal delivery options available online. An executive with a chain of licensed cannabis stores says if legal vendors could deliver too, they could help drive illegal dealers out of the market.

'It's 2020. People expect these kind of modern retail features,' Vancouver cannabis executive says

At least one cannabis retailer in B.C. says it's high time for pot deliveries to be legalized in the province. (Robert Short/CBC)

A chain of cannabis stores says if they and other legal retailers were allowed to deliver pot, they could nip illegal dealers in the bud.

Hobo Cannabis, a licensed retailer with five locations in B.C., says it and other legal vendors are at a disadvantage against unlicensed competitors who deliver weed — which is against the law.

Harrison Stoker, vice-president of the Donnelly Group, which owns Hobo, said it's a long-standing complaint from the legal sector.

The sticky situation has only become worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, he added, as more consumers want many types of goods delivered.

Harrison Stoker, vice-president of the Donnelly Group, which owns Hobo Cannabis Company, said B.C.'s illegal market has taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Joel Ballard/CBC)

"The illicit market here [is] very intelligent, very strategic and very mature in their business models," Stoker said.

"This pandemic was a crisis they certainly did not waste."

Stoker argues that if legal vendors could deliver as well, they could compete with the illegal dealers and help drive them out of the market.

Hundreds of illegal delivery options

Marijuana by mail order is only legally available in the province from the government-run B.C. Cannabis Store, but shipments usually take several days to arrive. 

On the other hand, the website Weedmaps lists hundreds of cannabis delivery options in the Lower Mainland, some promising delivery within an hour.

A search on the cannabis listing website Weedmaps on Monday turned up 283 results for weed delivery in the Vancouver area alone. (Weedmaps)

"It's 2020. People expect these kinds of modern retail features," Stoker said.

He argued that if licensed stores could deliver cannabis products, consumers could purchase authorized products from home that conform to packaging and labelling standards.

He added that legal cannabis delivery has already been successfully implemented in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.

Ontario, in particular, moved quickly on the issue, but "British Columbia feels [like] molasses speed," Stoker said.

'Enforcement has never worked'

B.C.'s Ministry of Public Safety, which is responsible for the province's legal cannabis framework, said the government is looking at allowing the legal sector to get involved in delivering cannabis.

In the meantime, it added, cracking down on illegal dealers is a challenge, especially when they are online.

"Online sales are a complex and cross-jurisdictional issue as these operators can operate from anywhere in the country, and even internationally," an email from a ministry spokesperson read.

"The ministry... has discussed the issues of illegal online sales with the federal government, who have informed us they are aware and are working on it."

Mark Haden, an adjunct professor at the UBC School of Population and Public Health who has written about drug regulation, said allowing the legal sector to deliver is a good idea in the short term.

In the future, he said, governments should do more to bring the illegal sector into line with the law.

"I don't think it's too late to do that," Haden said.

"Enforcement has never worked against drug crimes. We have over 100 years of drug prohibition to reflect upon."

With files from Joel Ballard