Public sector strike closes BC pottery stores, potentially boosting black market
Some of BC’s licensed private cannabis stores have been forced to close as a public sector strike affecting distribution centers drags on.
Industry insiders say the ongoing strike could cause lasting damage to the nascent sector and embolden a black market that has never been fully eradicated in a province long known for its « B.C. bud. »
Members of the BC General Employees Union (BCGEU) have been picketing government liquor and cannabis distribution warehouses for 12 days, seeking a wage hike that reflects soaring inflation.
Jaclynn Pehota, executive director of the Retail Cannabis Council of BC, said the strike was having a devastating effect on its members, who – until Friday – were unable to legally obtain product from any other source.
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She said she was aware of at least 50 stores in British Columbia that have either closed or drastically reduced their hours of operation as shelves dry up.
« That means we’re laying off staff, » she said. « These 50 stores, an average of 10 employees each, you can do the math. »
Beyond the immediate impact, Pehota said the layoffs are likely to cause problems down the road if staff take on new jobs and retailers have to hire from scratch in Colombia’s tight job market. British.
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Such was the situation at Mood Cannabis Co. in Nanaimo, which was forced to lay off 17 workers from its two locations.
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« There have been a lot of tears. We’ve had a lot of our staff with us since our opening day in 2020, so it’s really sad, » CEO Cory Waldron said.
« Some of these people won’t be able to come back because they can’t wait for EI…so they have to find other jobs. »
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Negotiations between the BCGEU and the provincial employer resumed earlier this week.
Asked about the ripple effects on the cannabis industry, union spokeswoman Jasleen Aora said they were currently under a media blackout.
Pehota said that in addition to economic concerns, the strike risks driving consumers into the black market.
“The illicit market is obviously ready for this, they’re absolutely ready to go. They’re very excited to fill the void,” she said.
Cannabis industry fears shortages amid BCGEU action
That certainly appeared to be the case at an unlicensed pot kiosk operating on Main Street and Terminal Avenue in Vancouver on Friday.
Under a retractable awning labeled « Familia, » two men who declined to be named were bargain-hunting and refilling clear plastic pots of cannabis from large zip-lock bags.
Business had only improved since the strike began, one said.
“When the store closes, people need a place to buy their weed. Nothing changes,” said one of the salespeople.
“With the black market, there is never a strike. It’s a business, man, people need to make money.
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On Friday evening, Pehota said the Liquor and Cannabis Distribution Branch had restored « very limited » access to direct supply, representing about 50 products.
In the long term, she said the government needed to enable a more diversified wholesale market for licensees, so they could not be caught in a similar bottleneck.
« It really demonstrates the complete monopoly flaw, » she said.
Global News has asked the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Safety for comment on the matter.
— With Canadian Press files
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