Pubdate: Sat, 09 Dec 2017
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Colin Perkel
Page: B3


Colin Perkel writes the upcoming legalization of marijuana is unlikely
to kill Canada's black market - right away, at least

TORONTO - From texting a local dealer to dropping into a neighbourhood
dispensary or ordering online, Canada's black market for recreational
marijuana has seen significant changes in recent years and, no doubt,
will see more as the country hurtles toward a new world of
legalization next summer.

What does seem clear, however, is that the illegal market is unlikely
to disappear in a puff of smoke come legalization day.

"There's a huge, complex system out there operating in the world that
has been delivering excellent product to people at reasonable prices
for 40 years now," says Donald MacPherson, the executive director of
the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, an organization based out of Simon
Fraser University that advocates for evidence-based policy-making and
harm-reduction strategies.

"It's really the degree to which the regulated system can, over a
period of years, encroach on as much of that pre-existing market as
possible - that is the key question."

Talking to users quickly reveals three major strands that make up the
current system, starting with the traditional approach: knowing a guy
who knows a guy who gets you your pot. It's familiar, it's trusted, it
feels safe.

More recently, street-level dispensaries have offered a somewhat
normal retail store-front experience, though some offer only delivery,
but perhaps the biggest change has been in what appears to be a very
Canadian phenomenon: the burst of website-based mail-order marijuana
suppliers, or MOMs as they are known.

A plethora of websites now feature different cannabis products along
with prices and, in some cases, testimonials, contests, specials and

Most ask for proof of age in the form of an uploaded ID document - 18
or 19 is generally minimum - and payment takes place via Interac. The
vacuum-packed product is shipped to the buyer via Canada Post or courier.

Francois, 34, an IT professional in Quebec City, says he now buys
exclusively online.

"The convenience factor is what brought me there," says Francois, who,
like other users interviewed for this article, only wants his first
name used. "It's delivered to your doorstep. It's super easy, it's
super discreet."

Marie-Helene, 26, a journalist in Montreal who smokes recreationally
most evenings and weekends, says she doesn't expect much will change
for her post legalization.

She plans to stick with buying from a guy she knows who sells medical
grade weed.

She trusts him, she says, and she enjoys the personal touch - he knows
what strains she likes - and what she calls their"professional
business relationship ."

"It doesn't feel super shady," she says. "It probably sounds silly
(but) it's the same thing as people who enjoy buying stuff in stores -
because it's customer experience."

Robert, 55, an IT professional based in St. Catharines, Ont., a
recreational user for decades, says he now has a medical prescription
and can avoid a black market he believes was tied to organized crime.

The illegal market is doomed over time, he says, because every gram
sold legally is a gram the black market won't need to grow.

"Most of my friends can't wait to purchase legally and are quite
jealous that I am currently able to do that," Robert says.

"Friends who have more libertarian leanings swear they will never buy
from the Ontario government (but) I bet that changes. People are lazy
and follow the path of least resistance, so if they can buy a couple
grams in the same shopping plaza that they are grocery shopping, they
are going to do that."

Statistics Canada data indicate about 12 per cent of Canadians aged 15
and older - or 3.6 million of us - reported in 2015 having used
cannabis in the previous year, with 840,000 saying they used it most
every day.

Robert, however, says he thinks governments have hugely underestimated
the prevalence of use and the Ontario government's plan, for example,
to start out with 40 retail outlets is laughable. Whether the black
market shrinks and how quickly, observers say, will depend on what the
legal market ends up looking like.

It's far from clear.

Each province is charting its own course, with some tending toward
maximum restrictions in terms of retail outlets, while others talk of
stiff criminal sanctions for selling product to underage buyers or
near schools.

The challenge facing federal and provincial governments, says
MacPherson of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, is the fact that the
current system is so large, diverse and filled with expertise - in
other words, it is mature.

Across Canada, hundreds if not thousands of small-scale growers along
with some large grow-ops supply a seemingly ravenous consumer cohort
that includes younger Canadians who have some of the highest usage
rates in the world, according to various surveys.

"It's a really interesting and complex thing that the government is
trying to do," MacPherson says.

"It's trying to take a very robust, complex pre-existing market and
basically put it out of business by coming up with a better robust
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