Waiting to exhale
Canada’s brave new world of legal pot is almost here, even if nobody knows what it looks like. Are you ready for it?
last time I tried to buy weed before the Cannabis Act was introduced, I was a teenager. It was late in the 1900s, when the other prime minister Trudeau was winding down his political career.
We never had much pot-buying success, my friends and I. But that was fine with me. Attempting to score weed back then involved a lot of hanging around the arcade hoping a dealer would show up. Dealers rarely showed up. The consequence was that instead of getting stoned, I got really good at video games.
Those rare times we managed to buy a $15 gram of pot didn’t translate into much of a high. Grass back then wasn’t grown with the modern methods that produce high THC concentrations. And getting that weed was so difficult, we were reluctant to get rid of it quickly. A friend of mine likes to say we effectively endured the Weed Depression, a period of scarcity like our grandparents’ Great Depression.
Justin Trudeau, now 46, is the right age to have been affected by the Weed Depression. Maybe that explains his eagerness for legalization. Rather than a chicken in every pot, he’s suggesting some pot in every pipe.
Canada’s poised to become just the second country, after Uruguay, to legalize recreational cannabis for adults. Making this happen by July demands a mountainous stack of papers as each province figures out how to sell pot like it was wine. And taking the wraps off a powerful drug that is pretty widely used, but not that widely studied, requires faith in the existing science that things will turn out well for the citizen guinea pigs.
Full-on legalization is a bold experiment— and the strain is showing. Even our prime ministerial pot proponent ended 2017 pushing off implementation to “the summer” of 2018.
“The date will not be July 1, I can assure you of that,” said Trudeau during an interview for Quebec’s TVA network. “I don’t know where that date came from.”
(One source is Health Canada, whose website says that “the Government intends to bring the proposed [Cannabis] Act into force no later than July 2018.”)
Meanwhile the pending fact of legalization has emboldened the private (illegal) sector. In Halifax, as in many cities across the country, it’s ridiculously easy to buy pot right now. Dispensaries are opening all over the place. What happens to these stores once legislation passes is yet another great unknown.
Maybe the demand for weed will be so much bigger than the legal supply that dealers keep operating until the licensed producers can catch up. Maybe the politicians’ premise of a sinsemilla silver bullet works, and the legal market causes the black market to dry up while enriching government coffers and increasing public safety.
Post-prohibition Canada is a brave new world, one that is incredibly close yet strangely hard to see. “We’re building the airplane in the air,” is the way someone who works for a licensed producer put it to me. In other words, 2018 is going to be interesting. The country is rolling the joint after it’s already been lit.
is one of those things that seemed like it would never happen. In 1972 the Le Dain Commission—formed by Justin’s dad Pierre Trudeau—recommended decriminalizing Mary Jane, and that didn’t change things.
Then the 2001 legalizing of medical weed seemed to cement recreational weed’s outlaw status. It would take another 14 years before Trudeau the younger stepped up, promising to legalize cannabis outright as part of his election platform. It seemed fanciful. It seemed unlikely to come true. Yet here we are.
The first time I went into a weed dispensary was almost exactly one year ago, at the beginning of 2017. I was visiting family out west in Victoria, BC. Cannabis shops were everywhere. It was the first thing I noticed. Downtown, uptown, in the burbs—pot stores are as common as coffee shops in Victoria.
One day, while out for lunch, curiosity got the better of me. With assorted grandparents and children waiting outside, I ducked into the weed shop beside the restaurant we were at to find out what the hell.
Actually, it was more a weed boutique; tastefully lit, with stereotypical BC wood counters and a long row of weed-filled glass jars on a shelf. If I could produce a photo ID, I could buy whatever strain I wanted for $10 per gram ($12 for the really good stuff). Mind blown, I left without making a purchase.
Meanwhile, back in Halifax police had just raided a Barrington Street dispensary called Auntie’s Health and Wellness Centre, arresting its owner Shirley Martineau. She opened Auntie’s to serve only legal medical weed users, but soon lost the will to keep turning away sick people who didn’t yet have a prescription. Martineau started selling to anyone over 19 and was shut down for her troubles.
She was just a few months ahead of her time. True to his word, Trudeau introduced the Cannabis Act in April 2017.
Official federal and provincial information sources take pains to point out that recreational cannabis remains strictly illegal right up until the moment the law changes, but anyone in the weed business says with the government intention so clear—and given the months it would take for a pot case to get through the courts—legally we’ve entered “a grey area.” And it’s here that retail weed has staked a claim in Halifax.
Weed maps, the industry leader (judging by the fact it’s the only pot app I’ve ever noticed advertising on billboards), lists 17 shops around the municipality. We don’t have anything like the concentration in Victoria—Halifax pot stores are only about as common as liquor stores, not coffee shops—but new businesses keep opening. And with the grey market maturing month by month, the