B.C. cannabis retailers say federal regulations making them targets for thieves
Cannabis retailers in British Columbia are rallying in the name of employee and customer safety as they plead with the federal and provincial governments to change the rules on retail visibility.
Right now, federal regulations require stores to ensure none of the products or accessories are visible from the outside in order to shield them from the view of minors. While some stores have large spaces or chic décor that cleverly conceals the material, those are often expensive options so most stores opt for frosted windows.
That choice comes with risks for workers – and customers – inside since visibility and situational awareness are greatly reduced, despite investment in high-definition surveillance cameras.
On Monday at Vancouver’s Kingsway Cannabis, a worker had a gun pointed at her face in an attempted robbery caught on camera. Last month, staff at Nanaimo’s Mood Cannabis were traumatized twice in short order after man stole pricy merchandise on back-to-back evenings.
“After the second time he came in we removed the window coverings for our staff and customers,” said Mood owner Cory Waldron.
A cannabis inspector, employed and directed by the province to do enforcement of the federal regulations, has warned him to replace the coverings since the wares are now visible from the street.
“This regulation was completely based on stigma and there's no rationale behind it,” said Waldron. “I don't see the appeal to our youth by seeing this (bland) packaging.”
LOBBYING AMID LEGISLATED REVIEW
Health Canada is currently reviewing how the rules and regulations that came with legalization are working in an 18-month process mandated three years after retail sales were authorized.
The Cannabis Council of Canada has been pleading for a reconsideration of the visibility clause on the basis of the stores looking uninviting to consumers, but also on the basis they look isolated and easily targeted for thieves, making them risky environments for employees.
“There's lots of desperate people out there. Some have guns, lots of them have knives, and they're going to go for the lowest common denominator, they're going to go for a weak point,” said president George Smitherman, a former health minister and deputy premier in Ontario. “The evidence is clear from numerous provinces: the current regulatory model is putting our employees at harm.”
Smitherman said Alberta has been lax about enforcing the visibility rules, so CTV News asked B.C.’s Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General whether it was considering some flexibility in light of the surge in violent crimes since the pandemic. The ministry did not answer the question and instead referred to the recent history of legalization.
Health Canada feels there’s enough flexibility as things stand, writing “there are solutions retail stores may implement in order to restrict visibility of cannabis and related packaging,” and that the agency “does not feel the objectives of meeting the requirements of the Cannabis Act and improving retailer staff safety are in any way at odds with one another.”
That may not be a reasonable expectation of a small mom-and-pop cannabis shop trying to watch their expenses while keeping staff and customers in eyesight of passersby who could call for help if there’s trouble.
“I can't provide a safe environment for my employees because of the regulations (right now),” said Kingsway Cannabis owner Chuck Varabioff. “I'm going to rally a bunch of the store owners I know in the Lower Mainland and in the Interior because they say ‘You can't fight the government,’ but we're going to give it a helluva shot.”
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