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B.C. cannabis stores close, lay off staff as job action prevents pot deliveries

Legal pot retailers say 70 per cent of them could close by month’s end
Members of the British Columbia General Employees’ Union picket outside a B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch facility, in Delta, B.C., on Monday, August 15, 2022. British Columbian cannabis stores say they’re shutting their doors and laying off staff after the strike stopped the province’s pot distribution centre from shipping out product early last week.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Some of British Columbia’s cannabis stores say they’re shutting their doors and laying off staff after a labour dispute in the public sector has stopped the province’s pot distribution centre from shipping product since early last week.

The privately owned stores, which must purchase their stock from the BC Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB), say they have run out of supply and have no other choice but to temporarily close and let go of their workers.

Mood Cannabis Co. chief executive Cory Waldron had to lay off 17 workers — 90 per cent of staff — at his two Nanaimo stores on Thursday because they weren’t receiving deliveries from the BCLDB.

“There was lots of tears. We’ve had a lot of our staff with us since the day we opened back in 2020, so it’s really sad,” he said.

“Some of those people will not be able to come back because they cannot wait for employment insurance.. so they have to find other jobs.”

Waldron said he knows of at least 40 stores that have closed already and believes that number could double by the end of Friday.

Supplies started dwindling after the British Columbia General Employees’ Union, which represents about 33,000 public-service workers in the province and is fighting for better wages, set up picket lines on Aug. 15.

Retail liquor and cannabis stores are not part of the job action, but the cannabis division of the Burnaby customer care centre is.

The union resumed bargaining earlier this week, but a settlement has yet to be reached.

The union did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

BCGEU spokeswoman Jasleen Arora declined to discuss the matter.

If the job action continues, 70 per cent of legal pot retailers in the province will have closed their doors by Aug. 30, estimates Jaclynn Pehota, executive director of the Retail Cannabis Council of BC.

It is likely that 30 per cent of them will not reopen one the job action is resolved, she added in an email.

Her organization has been urging the province to declare cannabis delivery an essential service or allow pot shops to buy stock from outside the province during the job action.

“Without immediate action, significant and irreparable harm will be done to BC’s legal cannabis sector,” reads a letter the organization encouraged stores to send to Premier John Horgan on Thursday.

“If these businesses are not offered immediate financial relief to secure their payroll and pay hard costs, many of these businesses will close forever, and BC will permanently lose market share to the black market.”

Waldron has already heard of illicit sellers heading to privately owned stores and passing out business cards to customers they feel they can lure in during the job action.

He fears it will be hard for some shops to win those customers over again, when deliveries return.

Cassandra Wardrop, operations manager at Flora Cannabis, has similar worries because many of the brand’s stores are located a short drive from Indigenous retailers, whose supply is not impacted.

“If that’s what they feel is right for them and they have a better experience there, then absolutely, there is a chance that we won’t get (those customers) back,” she said.

Flora, which has six locations, already had to temporarily lay off 30 people because of the lack of supply.

The stores will continue operating with managers running them, but hours will be reduced and even then, some shops only a week or less of stock remaining, Wardrop said.

For the business and customers’ sake, she hopes deliveries resume soon.

“Denying British Columbians access to legal substances like cannabis and liquor is negatively impacting British Columbians and I hope the strike action either ends or rotates into another kind of strike.”

—Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

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