BRITISH COLUMBIA DISPENSARY LAWS

British Columbia Cannabis Retail Regulations


Updated on November 13, 2020

British Columbia has long been renowned for producing some of the best cannabis in the world. When non-medical cannabis retail sales began October 17, 2018, British Columbians were finally able to lawfully enjoy their BC bud. Though the first year of cannabis retail in B.C. was a slow rollout, the province now has well over 100 operational stores.

When it comes to retail cannabis sales, BC employs a hybrid model with both public and private operators. The Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) is responsible for all wholesale distribution of non-medical cannabis and the operation of government-owned retail stores. The Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB) oversees licensing and monitoring of private cannabis retailers. Online cannabis retail stores are exclusively government-operated.

The Ministry of Public Safety has set the minimum purchase and consumption age for non-medical cannabis at 19, which is consistent with the minimum age for alcohol and tobacco use.

The LCRB is currently accepting applications for cannabis retail licenses.

Below we’ve compiled answers to common questions regarding the retail licensing process and sale of non-medical cannabis in BC. This page will be updated frequently as more information becomes available. Be sure to check out our Canada dispensary laws page for information about regulations in other provinces.


CANNABIS COMPLIANCE

Staying compliant with federal, provincial, and local regulations – including cannabis seed-to-sale reporting requirements – is your top priority as a cannabis retailer.

Albertans are able to purchase non-medical cannabis at privately operated physical retail stores as well as through publicly operated online stores.

As a non-medical cannabis retailer, you are required to submit monthly reports to the LCRB through a web-based cannabis licensing portal. These reports on sales, inventory, and number of employees are due by the 10th of each month and are ultimately sent by the province to Health Canada to be updated in the federal Cannabis Tracking System.

Licensees are required to track and keep certain records for six years while the license is valid and for six months after a license expires or is cancelled. These records include, but are not limited to: cannabis wholesale purchases, cannabis retail sales (including quantity sold, price charged), when cannabis is disposed of (date, location, method of disposal, type, and amount of cannabis), accessory and gift card sales, and employee records (all employees must be registered with the Province).

If you are found out of compliance by an inspector, you will be issued a Contravention Notice and may be recommended for enforcement action. Recently updated legislation includes a comprehensive list of penalties and fees that range from $50 to $25,000 and one day suspensions to loss of license, dependant on the seriousness and number of compliance violations.


LICENSING

Looking to launch a cannabis retail operation in BC? Here’s everything you need to know about the licensing process.

The province will not place a cap on the number of retail licenses issued; however, one licensee can only hold or have interest in a total of eight retail cannabis licenses.

Local governments may limit the number of licenses permitted within their jurisdictions; they may also elect to not allow the retail sale of non-medical cannabis.

The Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB) regulates the non-medical cannabis industry in BC and is responsible for issuing both types of cannabis retail licenses, retail store licenses and marketing licenses. The retail store license, as its name suggests, authorizes a retail storefront; the marketing license is required for anyone that is involved in “promoting cannabis for the purpose of selling it, soliciting, receiving, and taking orders for the sale of cannabis, and/or act as an agent for the sale of cannabis.”

The LCRB has established an online application portal through which prospective BC cannabis retailers may apply. The LCRB portal also includes a tool that applicants can use to generate a custom BC cannabis retail license to-do list to help ensure your application is ready to submit.

Application timelines are very difficult to estimate. In B.C. the application process includes evaluation by the LCRB, security screenings and financial stability checks, and local government approval. The time it takes to process depends on the completeness of your application, complexity of your proposed operation—including number of employees who need to be screened—and ultimately the backlog and response time of local governments.

Yes; there will be an application fee of $7,500, which includes the security screening and financial integrity check. Retailers will also pay an annual licensing fee of $1,500.

No; you may not sell cannabis with a liquor or tobacco license. However, you may apply for a cannabis retail license if you already have a liquor and/or tobacco license.

If you are awarded a cannabis retail license, you may NOT sell cannabis at your liquor or tobacco store; you must establish a separate storefront solely for non-medical cannabis sales.

No; previously operating an illegal dispensary will not automatically disqualify you from receiving a license. All applicants will be assessed using the same criteria, which includes a background check and demonstration of your local government’s support.

Yes. Local governments that support non-medical cannabis retail stores must demonstrate their support for individual applicants by providing a council resolution to the LCLB.

Local governments will also have control over zoning and location requirements for cannabis retailers in their jurisdictions.

Yes, retail applicants may also have an interest in producer/processors. However, if there is a close financial or other association between a producer and retailer, the LCRB will restrict the relationship to ensure diversity in the marketplace.

No; retailers are not allowed to advertise themselves as a place to consume cannabis or a place to go after consuming cannabis. The Province may consider this at a later date.


OPERATIONS

Get the details of running a non-medical cannabis retail store in BC here.

Standalone retail stores will be run by both public and private operators. Cannabis may not be sold at the same location as liquor and/or tobacco; they must be sold in separate establishments.

Yes. Non-medical cannabis retailers may not include the words “pharmacy,” “apothecary,” or “dispensary,” as these terms are linked to the selling of medicine. Non-medical cannabis retail store names must be approved by the LCLB.

Not at this time; the Province may consider offsite retail sales in the future.

No; federal law requires that cannabis products may not be visible from outside the store.

Online sales are exclusively government-operated. The province of B.C. currently does not allow Click-and-Collect (order online, pick up in store) for private non-medical cannabis retailers.

Retail stores must be equipped with an intrusion alarm that is both audible and monitored by a 3rd-party security service. Locks must be used on perimeter doors, storage rooms, and display cases. Security cameras are required to monitor the full sales floor, any product storage area, and the interior and exterior of all entrances and exits. The system must record at all times and you must save footage for at least 30 days. Cannabis on display must be locked in secure containers. For full details and additional security requirements, refer to the LCRB’s Cannabis Retail Store Terms and Conditions handbook.

No. All cannabis products must be stored at your retail location.

Licensed retailers may obtain non-medical cannabis only through the LDB. Retailers may not purchase any cannabis products directly from producers or from any other sources.

Adults aged 19 and older may purchase up to 30 grams of dried cannabis or an equivalent amount of non-dried cannabis product. The daily purchase limit is 70 grams for liquid product, 15 grams for edibles, 0.25 grams for concentrate, 5 grams for fresh cannabis, and 1 cannabis plant seed.

BC has set the minimum age at 19, which is consistent with the purchase and consumption age for alcohol and tobacco.

Licensed retailers may sell dried cannabis flower, cannabis oils, edible cannabis products, cannabis extracts, cannabis topicals, and seeds.

Retailers are expected to collect a Provincial Sales Tax (PST) on every sale of cannabis, paid for by the retail customer. Licensees must register for PST with the Ministry of Finance.

Apart from dried cannabis, cannabis oils, edibles, extracts, topicals, and seeds, retailers may sell cannabis accessories including rolling papers, bongs, pipes, vaporizers, and other products for the consumption of cannabis. Retailers can also sell gift cards to their location.

Cannabis retailers may not sell tobacco, alcohol, snacks, or other non-cannabis items.

No. Minors may not enter a cannabis retail establishment.

Unless further restricted by the local government, cannabis retailers may operate between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m.

No. Cannabis retailers are not allowed to deliver cannabis products.


CANNABIS MARKETING LAWS IN BRITISH COLUMBIA

The Cannabis Act includes strict but vague cannabis marketing laws. Canada's federal cannabis law specifically outlines five main marketing and advertising restrictions. These include:

  • No testimonials or personal endorsements;
  • Cannot appeal to minors or advertised anywhere minors may frequent;
  • No advertisement can include price information unless it is at the point of sale;
  • No depiction of a person, character, or animal (whether real or fiction) can be used to promote cannabis;
  • Cannabis advertising cannot relate the substance to a glamorous or "cool" lifestyle.

The Cannabis Act nor BC provincial law are very clear on marketing restriction details. The federal law says that cannabis, cannabis accessories, and cannabis services cannot be advertised in any publication or broadcast that originates outside of Canada. This is could limit a cannabis brand's ability to use large advertising networks based in the United States.

It's possible that a cannabis brand could use paid search with highly targeted parameters (limit age range to 19 years old and up, only target users in Canada, etc.). Even so, many of the largest paid search networks have strict no-cannabis policies even in legal countries.

Because the law and its implementation is still in its infancy, it is a good idea to speak with a lawyer when creating your marketing strategy.

The Cannabis Act makes it very clear that cannabis retailers are not allowed to give away free product ever.

British Columbia took a unique step by introducing a “Cannabis Marketing License”. This license allows third parties to market and sell cannabis products to retail cannabis store owners on a business-to-business basis. This marketing license does not apply to any business-to-consumer advertising.

Before legalization, cannabis-friendly smoking lounges were common in British Columbia. These Amsterdam style cafes in British Columbia are now expressly prohibited unless/until the provincial government updates their cannabis laws. Any cannabis lounges operating today do so under threat of very high fines.