Government cannabis stores adapt to a fast-changing market

It's been just over a year since the BC Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB) got the nod to establish a network of government cannabis retail stores and an e-commerce channel along with a distribution model to service these and private retailers.

Since then we’ve been working flat out to amass the expertise required to procure and sell this product responsibly, and to build the IT, financial and supply chain systems needed to add the cannabis operation as a line of business.

To date, BCLDB Cannabis Operations has received municipal approval to launch BC Cannabis Stores in Williams Lake, Cranbrook, Campbell River, Terrace, Fort St. John, Salmon Arm, Prince George, Powell River, Quesnel, Port Alberni, Trail, Courtenay and Kamloops, where our first bricks-and-mortar retail store opened on October 17, 2018.

An additional 18 applications have been submitted to various municipalities.

From the very beginning we’ve said repeatedly that opening a network of government-run cannabis stores wouldn’t happen overnight. 

It’s a whole new world for local and Indigenous governments, which are navigating legislation and drawing up bylaws to safeguard their communities and ensure this industry grows responsibly.

We’re being as nimble as possible, respecting changing guidelines and taking our time to identify the best sites for stores.

We’ve been thrilled that a dozen private retailers throughout the province have received their licences, and we highly anticipate dozens more becoming operational in the coming months.

In the meantime, our e-commerce platform at bccannabis
continues to make safe and high-quality cannabis products, and information, available to all customers, from the discerning to the new, with expert support and friendly service.

We haven’t been immune to the product shortages that forced stores in other provinces to limit hours or close entirely. Licensed producers could fulfil only a portion of every province’s initial orders when cannabis became legal.  Thanks to supply agreements with more than 30 licensed producers that provide us with more than 40 brands, we continue to receive a limited but steady supply and are raising inventory levels in anticipation of new store openings.

But the biggest issue we’ve faced hasn’t anything to do with supply or demand – it has to do with how we collect and store our customers’ information, whether they purchase cannabis products online or in-store.

Concerns surfaced after reports in the media about people who work in the cannabis industry facing problems as they cross the border into the U.S., where cannabis remains an illegal substance.

For the record, BC Cannabis Stores does not collect credit card information during an online cannabis purchase. Every decision we make is made in compliance with legislative requirements, and with the protection of our customers’ privacy in mind.

We’re almost six months post-legalization, and BCLDB Cannabis Operations continues to deal with a tremendous amount of change, while at the same time being in the calm before the storm. A new wave of edible products is due to be legalized later this year; as demand grows, our team will be more than prepared. 

Michael Tan is executive director of cannabis operations for the BC Liquor Distribution Branch.