Island cannabis stores begin to close as BCGEU strike continues

Island cannabis stores begin to close as BCGEU strike continues

As the BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU) enters its 13th day of going on strike, cannabis shops across Vancouver Island are shutting down due to products being held at distribution centres.

First opened in 2016, B Buds — formally known as Burnside Buds — has shut its doors indefinitely. Owner Rosetta Duncan says she’s ordered $28,000 in cannabis products, with no idea when she’ll receive it.

“I feel very frustrated,” said Duncan.

After the BCGEU began job action, B.C.’s Finance Ministry imposed limits on alcohol sales.

Private businesses that sell alcohol have the ability to source products directly from local producers, however, cannabis retailers can only buy from the government liquor branch wholesale and distribution centres.

Shutting her operation down has forced Duncan to lay off most of her eight employees, and she can only offer a few hours of work a week to a few staff members.

The owner says that three of her laid-off employees aren’t able to apply for employment insurance since they haven’t worked enough hours.

“Clean up the store, paint — do some painting and for one what we’ll also do is have him do social media,” said Duncan. “Even if it’s four hours a week, it’s better than nothing.”

Store manager Emilee Rempel landed her first job within the cannabis industry at B Buds. For her, not being able to interact with regular customers and coworkers hurts.

“I kind of feel them as almost family, kind of like a community that I can connect with but also sell them marijuana,” said Rempel.

In Nanaimo, Mood Cannabis Co. owner Cory Waldron was forced to shut down his two locations, laying off 17 workers.

“It’s heartbreaking… our team is amazing and we don’t want to lose any of them but I understand that a lot of them don’t want to wait to find work,” said Waldron.

Waldron wants both parties to come to an agreement soon, adding that trust in legal cannabis shops will dwindle.

“We’ve worked really hard over the last four years of legalization to gain consumer’s trust into buying legal product,” said the owner. “I think that’s about to unravel.”

CHEK News reached out to six Victoria-area cannabis stores to hear about their current situations. Two shops said over the phone that at least one of their locations was forced to shut down. Another store said if a deal is reached, it would take three months to resume normal operations.

Both shop owners say they’re worried about a rise in black market cannabis sales. The Nanaimo owner says he’s considering hiring a security guard for his stores.

“Sometimes they’ll come to the store here — those illegal companies — they’ll hand out cards to our customers as we’re not in business anymore, so they’re definitely taking advantage of the situation,” said Waldron.

Last week, the BC Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB) informed retailers and producers of its direct delivery service restarting following the job action. The service allows for some approved cannabis producers to directly sell products to retailers, in hopes that it’ll reduce the pinch of supply shortages.

Duncan placed a small order but says the service it’s not a good replacement.

“We’re were not that lucky because a lot of suppliers are beginning to set up for direct delivery,” said Duncan. “It’s not sufficient and we don’t know when we’ll receive that order.”

Waldron says the service is good, but the availability of products is extremely limited.

“On the LDB wholesale page, we have access to over a thousand products, but with the direct supply program there’s currently access to less than 50 products,” said the Mood Cannabis Co. owner.

A non-emergency overtime ban was placed on Aug. 22 for all 33,000 BCGEU members. The following day, the union said that it was returning to the bargaining table with the province.

CHEK News reached out to the union but in an emailed statement, a spokesperson said that due to a media blackout agreement, no comment will be provided.

Oli HerreraOli Herrera

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