In Vancouver, the illegal cannabis market dominates

Illegal marijuana dispensaries outnumber Starbucks coffee shops in Vancouver according to a new report in the New York Times. Whether or not the Times actually counted and meant it literally, or figuratively, that’s a lot of pot (in case you’re curious, in 2014 there were 108 Starbucks stores in the city).

The only legal pot retailer in British Columbia is four hours away from Vancouver, practically ensuring a market for the roughly 100 illegal dispensaries in the city. Some of those have even applied for provincial licenses, but so far none have received them yet, leaving them all vulnerable.

[The once and future king of cannabis: Isaac Dietrich and MassRoots look forward]

One of the main reasons to legalize recreational marijuana in Canada was to shut down the many illegal dispensaries and black market growers dotting the country, but apparently, that won’t be happening anytime soon.

“It’s a very Canadian way of doing things,” said Mike Farnworth, British Columbia’s minister of public safety to the New York Times. “It won’t happen overnight.” There will, he added, be no mass raids, “guns and head-bashing.” However, unarmed inspectors known as “community safety units” can raid dispensaries without a warrant, seize products, and shut them down.

Canada’s decision to legalize marijuana was predicated on diminishing a black market. Reporting from Vancouver, Canada’s weed capital, @DanBilefsky examines the law enforcement challenges ahead.

— New York Times World (@nytimesworld) October 29, 2018


“Yo, hook me up bro.”

In Canada, the face of the illegal market isn’t just that weed guy who you text with a friendly “yo, hook me up bro.” Of course, drug dealers still sell pot, but the Canadian black market is also made up of brick-and-mortar retail shops, usually with a more attractive selection of goods on offer than the legal shops. They sell a much wider array of cannabis products than the fresh or dried cannabis, seeds, plants, and oils currently allowed by the law. It’s a huge market, with a trade estimated at 5.3 billion Canadian dollars.

[Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney joins board of Acreage Holdings]

One of the most popular illegal dispensaries in Vancouver, called Weed, Glass and Gifts, is “a relaxed space reminiscent of the coffee chain, jovial ‘budtenders’ sell coconut chocolate bars infused with marijuana and customers smoke powerful pot concentrates at a sleek dab bar,” as the Times so eloquently put it. It even has a website.

Entrepreneur Don Briere isn’t worried. “We’ll keep selling what we are selling,” he told the Times. In fact, he has plans for expansion. “The government taking over the cannabis trade is like asking a farmer to build airplanes,” Mr. Briere added.

Yet some illegal sellers are taking steps to enter the legal market. Even Mr. Briere is applying for some of the limited government licenses for his stores. Other illegal dispensaries are taking action against the government for its inaction to integrate the legal and illegal cannabis markets.

“The City is using legalization to try and impose Prohibition,” said Robert Laurie, the attorney for a group of Vancouver dispensaries which filed a constitutional challenge, saying medical marijuana patients are being denied access to the medication they’re purchasing at illegal dispensaries.

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