Although the nation of Canada legalized cannabis on October 17, it could take months before implementing the nation’s legal retail industry. There is an uneven distribution of access to retail storefronts across Canada. This is because of the different rules relating to cannabis in different provinces. Also, there’s the problem with the availability of the product. So far, the products regulated for legal retail sale include flower, plants, cannabis seeds, and oils. Thus, illegal dispensaries are still the only source for most cannabis consumers in Canada, even though the drug has been legalized. The Cannabis Act went effective three weeks ago, and officials are already starting to acknowledge the difficult task of disrupting the unauthorized retail market.
According to Officials, the cannabis legalization has led to a chilling effect on the activities of the “black market” in Canada. However, this is not certain because unauthorized dispensary managers and freelance dealers are benefiting from the asynchrony between the law and the legal market to offer products and services which can’t be provided by licensed retailers. Reports are showing that illegal dispensaries are becoming more flagrant with the law.
A perfect example of this can be seen in Vancouver, British Columbia. On legalization day, British Columbia had only a single licensed dispensary, in Kamloops, four hours from Vancouver—the cannabis capital of Western Canada. Vancouver has many illegal dispensaries than Starbucks. However, although there are a lot of pending applications, neither of them acquired the permits they needed to function legally. Indeed, the provincial government of British Columbia lacks knowledge about the exact number of unauthorized dispensaries in the province. Moreover, regulators are taking a lot of time to review the application authorize them.
Now, there is a lack of will when it comes to countering the unauthorized cannabis market — at least in Vancouver. There is a lack of will to implement legalization, to create a legal retail market that could participate with the certified association of unlicensed producers and dispensaries. Achieving that market, the primary method to bring down prices is the main method to lessen the incentive for unauthorized operators.
Currently, given a secure and authorized legal retail market, Canadians will regularly buy marijuana from unlicensed retailers. When provincial governments authorize more private or government-run dispensaries, the main plan of action will be enforcement. This further brings lots of challenges for provincial law enforcement agencies. Most Canadian provinces have a low policing rate when it comes to cannabis. And this is because law enforcement officials have been virtually weak at lessening the progress of unlicensed cannabis market in Canada.
This has been observed by unlicensed cannabis producers and retailers, giving them more reasons not to back down. Toronto police have routinely stormed unauthorized dispensaries, forcing them to shut down and confiscating their products. However, new dispensaries are created to replace them. Provincial officials in British Columbia went so far as to represent unarmed “community safety units” to invade and close unauthorized dispensaries. According to a recent report from the New York Times, there are about $3 million in unpaid fines for cannabis-related offenses. Dispensary operators in Vancouver deny paying them.