Cannabis gardener for family business saw effects of strike first-hand
The legalization of recreational cannabis was a joyful time for many, but most consumers aren’t aware of how it transformed the profitable world of grey market weed into a bureaucratic nightmare for many small producers. The fallout from recent events should serve as a wake-up call to anyone working in the cannabis industry.
On Aug. 15, the BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU) went on strike. This strike had adverse effects on many services across the province, with possibly none being as noteworthy for UVic students as the havoc it has wreaked on the province’s liquor and cannabis supply.
With several picket lines going up around B.C., the liquor board was no longer making shipments from its distribution centres. A cap was put on how much alcohol bars, restaurants, and individuals could purchase in one day from liquor stores.
While the shelves of many liquor stores didn’t end up as barren as some might have envisioned, this disruption in the supply chain caused many issues — especially for the cannabis industry.
Since legalization in 2018, the liquor board of B.C. has also regulated non-medical cannabis. Dispensaries — which often have a smaller stock of product than liquor stores — felt the pressure of the sudden strike almost immediately. Cannabis was now sitting in warehouses, unable to be delivered or sold. This led to many pot shops running out of product, having to temporarily close their doors and reduce or completely cut hours for workers.
As the retailers felt the effects of the strike, so did the producers. Cannabis growers could no longer send shipments to distribution centres, which meant no more payments.
Working as a cannabis gardener for my family’s small grow-op over the summer, I experienced and witnessed the effects of the strike first-hand. When hearing about the strike, we went from thinking about what needed to get done that week to wondering if we would have enough capital to pay workers. However, just when things were looking the grimmest, we managed to stay afloat thanks to a technicality.
Craft growers who produce under a set amount of cannabis each year were able to make direct deliveries to dispensaries, bypassing the distribution centres entirely. The morning after listing the direct delivery service, our crop was sold out. This showed how easy parts of the process could be made without the interference of the distribution centres.
While cannabis may be a glamorous industry for some, for many others it is a stressful world filled with red tape, regulatory hoops to jump through, and uncertainty. Countless independent cannabis producers have tried to make a living growing in B.C., but many never see their efforts make it to fruition.
The demands of the BCGEU were simple: a raise to match cost of living increases, or a five per cent increase each year for three years, whichever is higher. Everyone deserves a livable wage, especially those who run the services that keep the province running.
What made it hard to support the strike is how it has affected so many other workers in B.C. Impactful change requires drastic measures, but why should the livelihoods of fellow underpaid workers be used as a bargaining tool?
After months of negotiations and two weeks of striking, a tentative three-year agreement was reached with the province. The proposed raise of 3.24 per cent and 25 cents an hour makes it unsure whether the deal will be passed when it is voted on by the union.
While distribution centres are up and running again, it could be a while until the effects of this strike are fully resolved.
The turmoil that cannabis retailers and producers were put through because of this strike highlights the unjust methods used by the BCGEU to further negotiations, but it also shows that the cannabis industry in B.C. should secede from the overarching control of the liquor board.
Growers have had to deal with harsh potency testing regulations and rejection from major banks when trying to open accounts. It is also now apparent that the cannabis industry is at the mercy of the completely unrelated liquor market.
Many customers use recreational cannabis as an alternative to pain medications. Without a reliable and cohesive system for growers, retailers, and customers to rely on, the already volatile market of cannabis is bound to have some form of crash soon.
Perhaps it is time for the cannabis industry to work together to also demand better conditions from the higher-ups — without jeopardizing the livelihoods of countless other workers in the process.