Since Canada’s grand experiment legalizing recreational marijuana started on Oct. 16, the country’s cannabis supply along with its laws have been scrambling to keep up.
First, cannabis supply shortages and higher prices than those on the street mean that the black market isn’t going away any time soon. And this is despite the fact that eradicating the illicit marijuana market is one of the government’s chief reasons for adult-use legalization.
An Ipsos poll conducted in November for Global News reveals that, “Of those who have purchased cannabis in the last month, 35% went back to their pre-legalization sources. In other words, they skipped legal avenues in favour of their old dealer.”
How you view this number depends on whether you’re a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty type of person. You could view it pessimistically, seeing the black market as too entrenched to be destroyed. Or see it optimistically—that legal marijuana is already making great strides in reducing illegal cannabis, with hopefully more to come.
Predictably, marijuana dealers themselves treat the situation with bravado. In an interview with CBC News, one Alberta dealer, Mike, talks about the government’s cannabis stumbles: “At the moment, it's just almost a laughing stock. They dropped the ball, that's for sure. They made the black market stronger, really, by what they've done.”
Such cockiness may disappear when the country deals with supply issues, especially if it gets more competitive with pricing.
Government Sends Out Mixed Messages on Cannabis Laws
On the one hand, Canada has made cannabis legal, making it easier to obtain across the country. But on the other hand, cannabis laws are now stricter. There are more serious penalties if you’re convicted of a cannabis crime now as compared to pre-legalization times.
Talking about one Montreal marijuana dealer of three decades, a CBC News story points out: “On Oct. 16, the day before Canada became the largest market for recreational marijuana in the world, an arrest meant a short jail sentence at worst. Today, under the enhanced laws designed to stamp out people like him, getting caught could mean 14 years in prison.”
Against such strict measures, the government is also trying to show leniency to former offenders. In October, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced that the Liberal government will introduce legislation to allow people who have served their sentences for cannabis possession to apply for a pardon without having to wait a specified period or pay a fee.
Right now, the minimum age to consume marijuana is 18 or 19, depending on the province. But there has been a backlash against this, as people worry about the effects of cannabis on young, developing minds. A survey conducted by Postmedia/Dart Insight found that 76% of Canadians want a higher cannabis consumption age of 21.
Already, changes are afoot in this area. The recently elected Quebec Premier Francois Legault of the Coalition Avenir Quebec has introduced legislation to raise the minimum cannabis consumption age from 18 to 21 in that province. The bill would also ban the use of marijuana in all public spaces, including parks and playgrounds.
Critics counter that the age limit won’t stop teenagers from experimenting with marijuana, so they’ll be forced to go to the black market to obtain their supply illegally.
Cannabis Vaping Laws Cause Confusion
The laws around vaping cannabis concentrates are also baffling. While it’s legal to vape cannabis concentrates, it’s illegal for businesses to sell these concentrates.
The only exception to this rule so far is Aurora Cannabis, which Health Canada allows to sell a vape concentrate. This is probably due to the fact that the concentrate is low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabis’s psychoactive ingredient, and high in cannabidiol (CBD), the marijuana cannabinoid that doesn’t produce the high that THC does.
The laws governing legal sales of concentrates, edibles and cannabis-infused drinks may change next year, after Health Canada has done its due diligence.
Zoning Headaches for Producers of Craft Cannabis
The same day that Ottawa legalized marijuana for recreational use, it started accepting applications from small growers for micro-cultivation licences.
“The spirit [of theses licences] was to get the small growers involved and to get the black market to convert over to the new market,” says James Walsh, president of the B.C. Micro Licence Association. “In reality we're just not seeing it,” he continues.
The hurdle is obtaining municipal approval and zoning, a key requirement of the licences. Many cities haven’t established zoning for cultivation and seem reluctant to allow micro-cultivation at all, growers claim.
As a result, many growers are continuing their operations illegally. “Do they want us to keep growing the weed and selling it out the back door or do they want the tax money?” asks one frustrated grower.
Selling Marijuana Accessories Becomes Tricky
Stores selling cannabis accessories have long been a common feature of the Canadian retail landscape. But now that may be changing.
On the day of legalization, two inspectors from the Newfoundland Labrador Liquor Corporation visited Jon Keefe, co-owner of Dabber Hashery in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
“They took a really brief look around and then told us that we weren't allowed to have the word 'cannabis' printed anywhere inside our store or our staff clothing,” says Jon.
He was also told that he couldn’t sell any products with the word “cannabis” on it, which makes things difficult in his line of business.
Apparently, the inspectors were guided, or thought they were, by the Cannabis Act, which legal experts point out is very confusing about what is and isn’t allowed when promoting cannabis and cannabis accessories.
So far, Canada has been very progressive in how it has adopted legal cannabis. But for its experiment to succeed, changes to its cannabis laws need to progress even faster.
Photo credit: Cannabis Culture