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 corporations.
“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 legalization.
“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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