Accessing Cannabis Delivery Services in British Columbia During COVID-19

Despite the legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada, cannabis delivery services by private retailers to customers remains illegal in many provinces, including British Columbia.

In British Columbia, the terms of a non-medical retail license to sell cannabis do not permit the licensee to offer or provide a delivery service for non-medical cannabis, or otherwise engage the services of a third party to provide such services in respect of the licensee’s retail establishment. However, in light of the changing business market and social distancing requirements resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, some provinces are changing the way in which non-medical cannabis products may be accessed.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario recently authorized cannabis retail stores in Ontario to offer delivery and curbside pick-up services as an alternative to the mandated closure of all cannabis retail stores. These changes will last for the duration of the period of declared emergency, which has been extended to May 19, 2020 with the possibility of extension if the government’s emergency order on business closure is further extended.

In contrast, the government of British Columbia released Policy Directive No. 20-04, which sets out that while licensees must not sell non-medical cannabis products online or by telephone, licensees may offer non-medical cannabis product reservations to customers online using the licensee’s website or by telephone. Customers would then be required to pick up and pay for their purchases at the store.

In view of the restrictions being placed on retail stores, and the ability of consumers to access products being limited as a consequence, now would be an opportune time for the government of British Columbia to implement and test a delivery and curbside pick-up model similar to that currently being used in Ontario. Similar to the existing reservation model, consumers could reserve and pay for cannabis products by telephone or online and then a trained retail store worker could complete the requisite ID checks at the time of pickup or delivery. This model would enable consumers to access desired products without placing themselves at risk of physically entering a store. This would be particularly beneficial for consumers who are in high risk categories for COVID-19 including seniors.

There are online point of sales systems available which provide a safe and secure method for processing sales and payment, currently being used in Ontario. These systems can seamlessly be transferred and utilized in British Columbia to provide a secure method for customers to purchase products from licensed non-medical cannabis retail stores.

The inability of legal non-medical cannabis retail licensees to offer delivery services has placed illicit sellers in an advantageous position to access customers that legitimate businesses are currently unable to reach. By allowing delivery and curbside pick-up services, the government of British Columbia could further limit and reduce the number of illicit sellers, which was the intent behind legalizing recreational cannabis in Canada. In order to compete with illicit sellers, legal non-medical cannabis retail store owners need to be afforded the opportunity to compete similarly in the market and offer legal cannabis products in a comparable manner.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.