Cannabis user Scott Wells smokes a joint at a rally outside governments offices following the legalization of cannabis in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Cannabis user Scott Wells smokes a joint at a rally outside governments offices following the legalization of cannabis in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Black market will thrive until small pot growers and sellers included: advocates

Advocates say the black market will continue to thrive until small retail shops and craft growers are included in the regime.

A short drive away from British Columbia’s first and only legal marijuana store, Bill Semeniuk inhaled deeply from a joint outside an illegal cannabis dispensary.

The dispensary, Canadian Safe Cannabis Services, has been open in Kamloops for the better part of a decade, and Semeniuk doesn’t plan to switch to the swanky government-run shop — regardless of its legality.

“This man deserves my business. I’m loyal to him because of the fact that he was willing to sacrifice going to jail, perhaps, for providing medical marijuana to a lot of people who consider it their medicine,” he said.

The owner of the dispensary declined comment, but his outlet was among those illegal pot shops that remained open across Canada on Wednesday, despite not holding the appropriate licences. Advocates say the black market will continue to thrive until small retail shops and craft growers are included in the regime.

Canadian Safe Cannabis Services held a legalization celebration on Wednesday with a barbecue and music. A poster outside the building proclaimed, “Get high legally. Everyone 19 (years) or over welcome.”

The only legal weed that’s for sale in the province sits inside the BC Cannabis Store down the street or it can be ordered online. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said there are 173 retail applications being considered and he advised illegal stores to shut down until they are licensed.

It’s an ironic situation for a province long renowned for the quality of its bud and for cities that have taken a laissez-faire attitude toward storefront sales. Illegal dispensaries in Vancouver and Victoria also kept their doors open on Wednesday.

Semeniuk, 67, said he is a retired labourer with arthritis and lives on a tight pension. He said the Kamloops dispensary allows him to buy small amounts with what little money he has.

“There’ll be no government store that’ll let you say, ‘Please, can I pay you tomorrow?’ ” he added.

Related: Mellow opening to B.C.’s only legal pot shop

Related: Police hand out a few hefty fines for allegedly violating Cannabis Act

Related: Cheaper strains sell out within minutes on online BC Cannabis Store

Inside the gleaming BC Cannabis Store, some 92 products are for sale from 40 licensed producers, but only about seven per cent is grown inside the province. Small nuggets of bud are displayed in clear “smell jars,” but otherwise no products, logos or branding are visible, in line with Health Canada regulations.

Many different locations are being considered for future government-run stores, said Kevin Satterfield, director of cannabis store operations for the BC Liquor Distribution Branch.

“Kamloops just seemed to be the right place at the right time, where they had the zoning in place, they had a store location that was perfect for what we wanted to do,” he said.

B.C. is not the province with the worst access to legal weed. Ontario won’t have any brick-and-mortar stores until next year. Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick have about 20 stores each.

“It’s not fair to expect the government to deliver everything perfectly Day 1 when this is a huge transition,” said Ian Dawkins, president of the Cannabis Commerce Association of Canada.

“But let’s be realistic, these (illegal) retailers were very sophisticated retail enterprises in line with what you would see in a place like Colorado and Washington. … All of that sophistication is about to be blown out of the window by a tidal wave of Budweiser-grade cannabis.”

It’s not only dispensaries that feel shut out of the legal market, he added, as small-scale growers are still waiting for the federal government to open an application portal for micro-cultivator licences.

Dawkins said he doesn’t need to hypothesize about what will happen to the black market in Canada. He said he just needs to look at Washington state, where less-regulated medical dispensaries are more popular than highly restricted recreational stores five years after legalization.

“What happened at the very beginning of what they did is exactly what we’re doing in Canada,” he said.

“If you create a regulated environment and then leave an unregulated competitor, which one is going to be cheaper and better?”

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Larch Place is the first building to be built in the BC Housing, Canadian Mental Health Association housing project at the corner of Third Street SW and Fifth Avenue SW. This view is from the Shuswap Street side where it sits behind the Graystone East building. (File photo)
Opening of doors at new housing development in Salmon Arm welcomed

BC Housing announces opening of 32 rental units, with 35 more expected in summer 2021

Calls for potential overdoses in B.C. spiked in 2020, especially in the Okanagan - Shuswap. Pictured above is a BCEHS re-enactment of paramedics attending an overdose. (BCHES photo)
UBCO program increases drug checking availability in Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon

January 2021 data shows of 95 opioid samples tested across Interior Health, 93 contained fentanyl

Youth from Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton and the Kootenays were able to dig into two evenings of online learning and connection through United Way Southern Interior B.C.’s <CODE>anagan program. (Submitted)<code> </code>
CODEanagan gives youth a chance to learn about technology

The youth, aged 12 to 21, built their own WordPress sites and developed blogging ideas

A rainbow shining on Kelowna General Hospital on May 12, 2020 International Nurses Day. (Steve Wensley - Prime Light Media)
New COVID cases trending down in Interior Health

24 new cases reported Thursday, Feb. 25, death at Kelowna General Hospital

Okanagan patients will benefit from the recent inclusion of the Medical Arts Health Research Group in a worldwide study with the National Institute of Health (NIH). The study will be a global collaboration for finding better treatments for COVID-19. (File photo)
Okanagan research group involved with finding better COVID treatments

Okanagan Medical Arts Health Research Group invited to collaborate in global study

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Vancouver International Women in Film Festival kicks off March 5.
Women in Film Festival features two B.C. filmmakers

The 16th annual festival kicks off March 5, 2021

The booklet roots present day activism in the history of racist policies, arguing the history must be acknowledged in order to change. (CCPA)
New resource dives into 150 years of racist policy in B.C.

Racist history must be acknowledged in order to change, authors say

Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller, before she knew she would change literature. Photo Wikipedia
And Then There Were None

What book knocked your booties off when you were young?

A webinar on dealing with dementia will be held Wednesday, March 10, 2021 (Submitted)
Webinar on dementia scheduled for March 10

Okanagan residents invited to event on legal issues surrounding dementia

The BC SPCA is offering many chances for school-aged kids to learn about animal welfare and other animal topics. Pictured here is Keith, a three-month-old kitten seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
From pets to wildlife, BC SPCA offers animal education programs geared to youth

BC SPCA offering virtual spring break camps, workshops and school presentations

Most Read