Pubdate: Mon, 10 Apr 2017
Source: Capilano Courier, The (CN BC Edu)
Copyright: 2017 The Capilano Courier
Author: Connor Svensrud


What will happen to Canada's cannabis industry once the upcoming
recreational laws take effect?

There was a point in the earlier half of the 20th century that came to
be known as the Prohibition Era. Alcohol, along with several other
substances, became illegal under the thumb of the government of the
time, turning it into a black market good until the ban was lifted in
1933. But, according to dispensary operator Ray Nikiel, the
Prohibition seemed to move from one substance to another, with
cannabis becoming illegal not long afterwards.

"It's an extension of the first Prohibition." He said. "It became
illegal in America, even though it was in nearly every medication at
the time; back when it was known as cannabis instead of marijuana.
Then it was demonized by the pharma companies down there, and we
followed suit."

Nikiel is the proprietor of the Weeds Dispensary on 2nd Street near
Lonsdale, where he hopes that the potential legalization of cannabis
might sift out the muddy waters of stigma that cannabis practically
swims in.

He used the example of marijuana being conceived as a 'gateway drug'.
While this notion has been spread for generations, according to
Nikiel, it's often the opposite.

"A lot of people see it as an entry drug to opioid use, but it's
actually quite the opposite. Scientific evidence has proven that it's
actually an exit drug," he explained. "People who are getting off
opioids smoke marijuana to get rid of the poisons in their systems."

With the Canadian government's recent announcement that they intend to
legalize recreational Marijuana by next year, Nikiel hopes that the
government will listen to the smaller companies throughout the
legalization process, working close with them instead of larger

"We don't know how they will set it up in the province. So, of course
we're concerned," he said. "If they don't follow the recommendations,
and they decide to do it with the big companies, that will influence
all of it. In these dispensaries, we pay our staff above minimum wage.
We hire people from the local community so that they can pay their
rent and buy their food."

Since the 2015 Federal election, many have waited eagerly for Justin
Trudeau to follow through on his promise to legalize marijuana - a
promise that will soon come to fruition. As CapU business professor
Mary Charleson explained, it would be foolish and blind to not accept
the eventual legalization.

"What we see are a number of baby boomers in office who remain
ignorant and uneducated to the facts," she said. "It's all moving
forwards in a way that, if it's done well with good education, it
might turn out to be a bright new chapter for us."

Charleson has taken several trips to Colorado after taking an interest
in the state's legalization. Curious about the process by which it was
handled she has compared Colorado's road to legalization to the
possible routes that could be taken in Canada. "I went into one
dispensary and it was almost like an Apple Store. Everything was very
clean, and all the products were out and presented nicely. There were
even iPads set up for people to look up all of what the place sold and
what effects came from each product."

Although dispensaries still operate in a legal grey area across
Canada, many have already embraced a similar approach to business,
leaving the seedy stylings of their old operations behind, and
embracing a more modern and technological approach to their business.

While cannabis has a large community here in Vancouver, its illegal
status has led to a certain stigma surrounding the industry, which
even Charleson agrees has the potential to lift with the

"My understanding is that this community is surrounded by advocacy."
She said. "I suspect that there will still be advocacy for cannabis
even after the legalization, as well as a need for it. There will
still be ignorant individuals who will remain convinced of the
fantasized dangers of cannabis, and there will be people needed to
step forth with a supportive voice."

The long, drawn out fight for legalization may have a relieving end in
sight, but that might not mean the beginning of a new chapter for
dispensaries like Nikiel's. There needs to be an urge of caution as
the law gets passed in 2018.

"You can count on the big businesses sweeping in," Charleson said.
"It'll create new opportunities for all kinds of industries, but the
same can be said for the potential challenges it will bring forth."

There's a clear parallel, seeing as it is almost a whole century after
the Prohibition era. Alcohol became legal once more when people found
out that it could to be enjoyed, if done so responsibly. Can the same
not be said for cannabis?
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