By David Wylie
Faced with unlicensed cannabis stores all over the province, the BC government has opted to wage an optics war.
The BC NDP’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth announced this week that cannabis seized from illicit stores contains contaminants that are not allowed in legal weed, as well as high levels of lead and arsenic
"My message to people who choose to consume cannabis is simple: buy from legal sellers whose regulated product is subject to national requirements that are in place to protect you," says Farnworth in a statement to media.
The province says the results show some illicit growers “may be engaging in practices that pose risks to both consumers and employees handling cannabis.” While the study suggests illicit weed poses a public health risk, the BC NDP announced no action.
Officials did not divulge where exactly the cannabis they tested came from, other than it came from Metro Vancouver.
The BC NDP has been under pressure for more than a year from legal retailers who say they're losing significant business to unlicensed stores.
Still, the government has largely ignored or deferred the issue.
In the Okanagan, unlicensed stores are open all over the Valley on First Nation land. That means they are in the uncharted legal waters of Indigenous rights when it comes to the sale of cannabis. Rather than risking a court battle if they enforce, the province appears to be choosing to play the public safety card. The slow game, however, may leave some cash-poor retailers to starve financially, as they wait for the government to help them.
“We don’t stand a chance if things don’t change,” one retail operator tells the oz.
Some are already on the verge of shutting down.
The BC Liberal Opposition pushed the BC NDP on the topic Thursday during committee, as some wondered whether health authorities should step in to close unlicensed stores and whether the province shares some liability by allowing unlicensed stores to continue operating when there are now documented health risks.
The pilot study is a partnership between the B.C. Cannabis Secretariat, which is the central coordinating body for non-medical cannabis policy across the provincial government, and the BC Centre for Disease Control.
Twenty dried cannabis samples that had been seized by the provincial Community Safety Unit from illicit retailers in the Vancouver area were tested by a federally licensed analytical lab in February 2021. The lab found 24 distinct pesticides, along with unacceptable levels of bacteria, fungi, lead and arsenic. The lab results are available here.
The National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health also took part in the study, posting about it on their blog. They say there are limitations to the study, including it's a small sub-sample that's "not representative" of all illicit cannabis in Metro Vancouver.
"The 20 samples may have been produced by 20 different growers, or one. They may have been grown within Metro Vancouver or may have been sourced from elsewhere," says the centre.
The centre says it focused on flower, adding concentrates made from the bud could theoretically have much higher levels of contaminants after processing.
The bottom line from the province is 'buy illicit weed at your own risk' — but rest assured, they won’t lift a finger to stop it.