Sun | Nov 17, 2019

Frustration and pride in Canada after a year of legal marijuana

Published:Thursday | October 17, 2019 | 12:01 PM
In this Wednesday, October 9, 2019 photo, samples of marijuana, in tamper-proof containers that are secured with cables, are displayed at Evergreen Cannabis, a marijuana retail shop, in Vancouver, British Columbia. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The weed is expensive, the selection is limited, the black market persists, and licensed stores are scarce.

It’s one year into Canada’s experiment in legal marijuana, and hundreds of legal pot shops have opened.

While many residents remain proud of Canada for bucking prohibition, a lot still buy cannabis on the sly, because taxes and other issues mean high-quality bud can cost nearly twice what it did before legalisation.

Much of the drug’s production and distribution over the years has been controlled by outlaw groups, including the Hells Angels, and replacing such criminality with safe, regulated sales is a key goal of legalisation.

Yet legal sales in the first year are expected to total just $1 billion, an amount dwarfed by an illegal market still estimated at $5 billion to $7 billion.

“One customer told me, ‘I love you and I want to support you, but I can’t buy all my cannabis here. It’s too expensive,’” said Jeremy Jacob, co-owner of Village Bloomery, a Vancouver pot store that feels more like a museum gift shop, with its high ceilings, graceful lighting, tidy wooden shelves and locked white cabinets hiding packages of marijuana. “The black-market producers are being well rewarded by legalisation.”

The nation has seen no sign of increases in impaired driving or underage use since it joined Uruguay as the only countries to legalise and regulate the sale of cannabis to adults — those over 19 in most Canadian provinces. 

Delegations from other countries, including Mexico, have visited Canada as they explore the possibility of rewriting their own marijuana laws.

But officials promised legalisation would be a process, not an event, and they weren’t wrong.

Kinks abound, from what many consider wasteful packaging requirements and uneven quality to the slow pace of licensing stores and growers across most of the country.

Canada allowed provinces to shape their own laws within a federal framework, including setting the minimum age and deciding whether to distribute through state-run or private retail outlets. Some have done better than others.

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