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

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