Here we are, more than one month into national cannabis legalization, yet just a handful of private retail cannabis licences have been awarded in B.C. Alberta, meantime, has handed out nearly 70 (although the province announced Wednesday it stopped issuing new licences due to a supply shortage). As CBC News put it, B.C.’s reputation as Canada’s pot capital is stuck in red tape, while Albertans next door roll freely from store to store. Both B.C. and Ontario have been slammed for their handling of the private cannabis industry. In a shocking address, the CEO of Aurora Cannabis says that Ontario and British Columbia “shat the bed” when rolling out their retail models for recreational cannabis, and that the only provinces that “got it right” were Alberta and “perhaps Saskatchewan.” See also: Odds are literally stacked against B.C.’s private retail cannabis sector “I would say Ontario shat the bed the worst,” Terry Booth told a panel session at the Marijuana Business Conference — also known as MJ Biz Con — in Las Vegas last Thursday, reported Financial Post. But Ontario has been praised by others. The Globe and Mail published a column recently noting that in its cannabis retail regulations, the Ontario government is supporting the “little guy” in the cannabis industry. The column was penned by corporate lawyer with Toronto-based SkyLaw Professional Corp. Andrea Hill, and shed light on how Ontario is handling its cannabis retail rollout. “Rarely do new regulations generate as much excitement as the list of rules unveiled by the Ontario government this week, but rarely does a province create an entirely new business opportunity virtually overnight, and players big and small have been champing at the bit to hear the rules of the game,” Hill writes in her column. What are those rules? Ontario, which will begin accepting online applications on Dec. 17, has established a limit of 75 stores per operator to “prevent a high degree of market consolidation, promote opportunities for small businesses and promote investment in the cannabis retail sector.” Licensed producers will be limited to owning one retail shop. Along with their “affiliates,” a LP can also own or control up to 9.9 per cent of another corporation with a retail operator license. “The intent is clear: Licensed producers are not to dominate the market at the expense of the ‘little guy’ entrepreneur,” writes Hill in her column. Hill goes on to say another way the regulations support the cannabis entrepreneurship dream is by limiting the ability of municipalities to impede it, by stating that the only grounds on which municipalities can object to a retail store application are public health and safety, the protection of youth and the prevention of illicit activities. Meantime, in British Columbia, retail applications have been accepted since August but just one private license has been approved. And municipalities have a great deal of power, with the ability to limit shops from setting up in their neck of the woods. Following their election in the Oct. 20 civic elections in the province, B.C.’s new city councils are pondering their pot policies. As they do that, the private market is in a holding pattern because in B.C., cities must approve of a potential cannabis retailer. Maple Ridge, for example, has drafted a pot policy that favours government-run operations. “A draft policy that sketches out a plan for how the city will review and approve recreational pot outlets, says that preference will be given to government-run operations because of training, security, staffing and salary levels offered in such stores,” reports Maple Ridge News. The community newspaper also notes that the B.C. Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch is actively searching for two locations in Maple Ridge. Then, there is the City of Surrey. Newly elected Mayor Doug McCallum has stated he doesn’t want pot shops setting up at all until crime is under control. In B.C., it’s shaping up to be a market that favours the government-run operations and not the “little guy.” We hope in time, this changes. To achieve successful legalization, and thus elimination of the black market, the “little guy” needs a chance. We need a competitive market in B.C., and consumers need choices. Otherwise, the illicit market will continue to thrive and the government will be hard-pressed to argue that legalization has been a success – aside from those wonderful tax revenues. The Georgia Straight published an article earlier this year, breaking down B.C.’s retail cannabis rules, noting that “the only legal weed available will be government weed. Period.” “All of the cannabis sold in the store must be purchased from the Liquor Distribution Branch. Licensees must not sell cannabis that is not obtained from the Liquor Distribution Branch,” the regulations note. B.C. regulations also state that any federally licensed cannabis producers (LPs) are currently not eligible to apply for a retail licence. If they want to sell in B.C., they have to do so directly to the LDB. A retailer, meantime, is not permitted to grow cannabis to sell. “Furthermore, if a cannabis retailer has “close financial, business or family connections” to an LP—also known as a “tied house”—they may not be allowed to sell their product,” the Georgia Straight notes. “While tied house connections are not completely banned, if the general manager of the LCRB expects the retailer may promote or purchase one LP’s cannabis over others, the licence can be denied.” The argument for this rule is that it attempts to “avoid preferential treatment or market monopolization.” The downside? “Many of the existing LPs, dispensaries, and retailers have had decades to build close relationships and vested financial interests to sustain the web of a thriving grey industry,” Georgia Straight reports. “In summary: if you grow, you can’t sell. If you sell, you can’t grow. If you know someone who sells or grows, well, you can still be friends.”

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