Selling Cannabis

By Bob Chrismas

AS OF OCTOBER 17, 2018, AFTER MUCH DEBATE AND ANTICIPATION, POT BECAME LEGAL IN CANADA. CONVENIENCE STORES, BEING THE MOST FORWARD FACING AND ACCESSIBLE DISPENSARIES OF OUR MOST POPULAR PRODUCTS WILL EVENTUALLY BE IN THE FOREFRONT OF CANNABIS DISTRIBUTION. AS SUCH, THEY WILL BE PIONEERS IN PRODUCT HANDLING AND SALES.

While the debates around all aspects of cannabis distribution can be exceedingly complex, they are quite simple. From a policing perspective, the complexity is around impaired driving and how evidence must be collected and presented for court. The selling and distribution have been of much less concern, in particular, because Canadian emergency services have had their hands full trying to mitigate the methamphetamine (aka meth) crisis. Cannabis, while it is considered by many as a gateway drug, and certainly has negative health implications, is relatively benign compared to the harsh street drugs and alcohol that fuel violence and street crime across Canada.

Cannabis distribution is highly regulated, albeit differently in each province. Those who wish to profit from its distribution will have to meet high bureaucratic demands that are spelled out in their jurisdictions. What is less clearly defined are the questions about how businesses need to harden their security or be prepared for additional threats of crime resulting from cannabis handling. Increased threats of crime will not be from cannabis induced fits of rage and violence, in fact, cannabis will generally mellow people out. The rage and unpredictable violence come with the growing menace of meth and related street drugs. Tragically, methamphetamines are cheaper to produce than many other street drugs, cheaper to buy and are highly addictive. Once addicted, after even one or two doses, the rate of survival is very low. What store owners need to be concerned with is people on meth seeking anything valuable that can be converted to meth, Cannabis being one of those valuable products, is popular and easy to sell in the black market. Cannabis will take its place along with cigarettes, as a valuable black market commodity, and store owners will have to handle it accordingly.

The introduction of cannabis to our stock is a good reason for every dispensary and store to evaluate their security infrastructure and procedures, including consumption policies for employees. As for security, some important questions that come to mind include the following:

  1. How is your relationship with your local constabulary? These contacts and relationships are important and require maintenance; police officers retire and transfer, and when you have a serious issue, you want to have a current and engaged officer to talk to.
  2. Have you reviewed your physical security features, keeping in mind the principles of crime prevention through environmental design? Have the shrubs grown to the point of obstructing a view from outside that could deter thieves or robbers? Are the lights well placed and working? Do your security cameras work?
  3. Are your security procedures up to date, and do your employees know them well?

An important aspect to consider is appropriate training for all employees on the relevant details of the Cannabis Act. It spells out how cannabis must be handled for sale, in particular to keep it safe from criminals and from youth. People 19 years or older (18 in some provinces) can now possess up to 30 grams of cannabis legally, dried or equivalent in non-dried form in public, share up to 30 grams of legal cannabis with other adults, buy dried or fresh cannabis and cannabis oil from a provincially-licensed retailer, and can grow regulated amounts.

A fourth major consideration is human resource policies to account for drug use in the workplace. Illegal drug and alcohol policies will need to include cannabis use. Managers must be able to recognize the signs of impairment. Secondly, understand how to assess fitness for work, and how to respond legally if an employee is deemed unfit for work. This can be tricky if the employee has a legitimate medical prescription for consumption. Also, have you considered if cannabis consumption will be allowed on the premises; for example will designated smoking areas be used, does second hand smoke affect others adversely and what it the property owner’s responsibility in that?

Criminal offences related to providing cannabis to youth carry maximum penalties of 14 years in jail. These include giving or selling cannabis to youth, using a youth to commit a cannabis-related offence, and restricting promotion and enticement. The Cannabis Act prohibits products that are appealing to youth through packaging or the way they are displayed or accessed. For example, sale in vending machines is prohibited. Imagine when us baby boomers were growing up if we could have bought beer form a vending machine? Penalties for promoting cannabis and making it available to youth can include up to $5 million fines for corporations.

Many of these issues will have to make their way through the courts before a body of common law is established; however, I would not want to be the one having to pay the legal bills and fight it out in court. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 

Bob Chrismas, Ph.D., is an author, scholar, consultant, passionate speaker and social justice advocate, police professional with internationally recognized expertise in community engagement and crime prevention. An advocate for social reform, he has written and speaks extensively on innovative trends in policing, community partnership and governance. Visit Bob at: BChrismas.com.