How government greed is getting in the way of a good thing
Alexis Zygan, Contributor // Illustration by Stephany Gilson
At the moment, there are almost 100 cannabis dispensaries operating within the Greater Vancouver area, not including e-commerce businesses that distribute mail-order cannabis to consumers. With legalization less than a month away, only 31 producers in all of BC have been granted a license by the government. This means that when consumers go to their local dispensary to grab a joint on Oct. 17, many may find the doors closed permanently, consequently forcing people to access cannabis from a medicinal dispensary or call up their old drug dealer. Due to a lack of trust in government, many may risk purchasing from the underground economy instead. Additionally, while employed at a dispensary I have spoken with customers that despite having their Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) card, choose to buy product from a technically illegal dispensary. This is due to the fact that the government’s product falls short when it comes to quality and potency. These inconsistencies in prescriptions and dosages can be detrimental to the well-being of individuals who have built up a tolerance. For those that have been using cannabis for pain management for decades, a strong product is necessary to ease their symptoms.
For the past four years, the dispensary I work at has been operating within a grey area market. My dispensary, and many others, have received backlash in the months leading up to legalization, including fines from city officials costing up to $10,000. As a result, legalization manifests as a double-edged sword with both favourable and unfavourable consequences. The risk of being shut down, or even raided, by the government on Oct. 17 remains a persistent fear. The government has already hired a taskforce, unrelated to the VPD or RCMP, to close dispensaries that fail to pass legalization standards enforced by the Cannabis Act. This act, however, does not incorporate medicinal cannabis guidelines. Therefore, medicinal dispensaries must dispute the Cannabis Act if they desire to stay open past legalization. As a result, my dispensary is one of 50 included in a court case to apply for a license attempting to overwrite a law which bans dispensaries located near a school. This law represents a double standard amidst alcohol and cannabis industries, as it is only implemented for dispensaries but not liquor stores.
The government recognizes how legalizing cannabis can fill their pockets, from taxation, to creating a monopoly in which they are in control of both sales and distribution. The government intends to capitalize on the legalization of cannabis by implementing barriers for craft-growers and home-grown operations. As a result, the grassroots protestors who fought for cannabis legalization confront constraints when joining the private legal market. The legal need for testing the strength and potency of cannabis enforces an economic obstacle for growers who cannot afford an expensive testing facility.
Most of the cannabis sold at my dispensary is not tested to keep prices low because the majority of the growers produce small-batch quality strains. In order to remain legal some small-scale growers may partner with corporate giants. For example, Coca-Cola announced their interest in a collaboration with Aurora Cannabis. Collaborating with a cannabis company is an innovative brand strategy implemented to sway the public’s increasingly health-conscious opinion. Coca-Cola hopes to establish a reputation associated with CBD-infused water, a drink with health benefits, rather than their sugary, caffeinated soft drinks.
While corporations and government forces exploit the cannabis market, the masses and grassroots organizations experience negative consequences. Customers who shop at my dispensary have already expressed their distaste for the Cannabis Act and its implementation. Many are happy with the grey area market in Vancouver as it is. Whenever a new act is implemented there are curveballs along the way and legalization is no different. Hopefully, the government will modify the act to represent consumer desires and promote small-batch growers, as well as private medicinal dispensaries.