August 14th, 2019
The retail cannabis industry in Victoria BC has been thriving in recent years, with many operators springing up over the last decade and operating with tacit approval of the city. The community has welcomed these businesses so long as they have taken steps to prevent themselves attracting idle nuisance customers and to comply with the most basic agreed-upon rules of no sales to minors. Such a straightforward approach had worked well.
When the federal government legalized cannabis using an onerous and unwanted licensing scheme, fear began to settle upon the local operators and the city’s attitude towards them seemed to change. Far from being a simple shall-issue license with a nominal fee this new scheme seemed set out to create a completely new cannabis retail environment without any regard to the entrenched supply network that has come to serve the community over the years. They wanted to decide for us what type of cannabis product we should have available, and how it should be sold. They then began to threaten anyone who disagreed with this new system. There were once over 30 cannabis retailers in this city, thriving and competing with one another, driving the price of the product down while the quality was also improving. Many shops continued to remain open for business after the licensing regime came into effect in October 2018 but they were operating in a climate of fear, many of them reducing their inventories to comply at least with what the government regulations allowed in terms of product, such as removing concentrates and edibles from their menus. But this tentative peace was not to last.
On the morning of Aug 1 the Trees dispensary located on Yates was stormed by armed government agents and had their peaceful business disrupted. The agents stole product and shuttered the storefront, yet nobody was charged with a crime. What due process could be used to fight the seizure, remains to be seen. This action has had an instant chilling effect on the remaining cannabis business in town. Almost all of them closed out of fear within days of the police action taken against Trees.
Officially now, the only three storefronts in Victoria at which cannabis can be legally purchased are the licensed operators Farm, Cloud9, and Clarity, who are happily complying with the nonsensical regulations. At these locations you can find limited selections of stale, pre-weighed, over packaged bud, and not much else. They have no concentrates, they have no edibles, and they don’t offer bulk discounts of any kind. They are not able to meet the needs of the community, and since the other retailers have closed many with those unmet needs are simply digging up the old contact info for their black market dealers. We all know a guy who can get us whatever. Heck that guy can get us a lot more than just cannabis products, but that gateway-policy is a topic for another time.
And that my dear readers, was that. Or so I thought.
I had an inkling that there was one particular shop in town that wasn’t going to take this prohibition 2.0 lying down. There are people in this town who have been fighting for their chartered right to access the medicine that helps them for decades and working together to tell the government where to stick its bong pipe. The Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club was the one place I suspected would still be open and dispensing cannabis products to meet the needs of its membership. I wasn’t wrong. A quick stop in there to confirm their still being open for business was certainly satisfying. Walking out with product that the licensed shops refuse to sell brightened my day further. With a small amount of relief I set out to dig into the current situation more thoroughly, and find out if there are any more cannabis shops openly defying the new prohibition variant.
I was pleasantly surprised to find not just one or two more places open, but a grand total of six unlicensed dispensaries of some form or another still operating. I would classify these businesses into two categories, members only medicinal dispensaries and hybrid med/rec shops. The members only clubs include Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club on Johnson, 1620 at Blanchard and Fisgard, and a small unnamed outreach/medicinal/harm reduction shop on North Park aimed at helping low income community members access their medicine. The med/rec hybrid open-to-all-adults shops include Terp City Lounge among the most candid of the operators, plus two other shops who would prefer to remain nameless at this time but which are very much operational. I find it comforting to know that these places are open and catering to the actual demands of the community versus the federal governments’ idea of what cannabis users should have.
I’m looking forward to seeing these shops continue to operate and to see a new wave of unlicensed cannabis retailers rise up and defy the bad law that has been passed by the federal government in open acts of civil disobedience.