In Hal­i­fax, as in many cities across the coun­try, it’s ridicu­lously easy to buy pot right now.

The Coast - - COVER STORY -

Tech­ni­cally the “pre­scrip­tion only” stores are il­le­gal. Cana­dian med­i­cal pa­tients are legally al­lowed to buy weed only via mail-or­der de­liv­ery from a li­censed pro­ducer they’re reg­is­tered with. Sum­mer’s le­gal­iza­tion may well bring a crack­down on them along with the rest of the grey mar­ket.

Staff I spoke with at lo­cal med­i­cal dis­pen­saries aren’t wor­ried yet, though. They talked of rolling with the punches, see­ing what hap­pens, hav­ing good lawyers and, oh yeah, po­ten­tially launch­ing a class-ac­tion law­suit against the prov­ince’s booze-and-pot plan. Go­ing

into a recre­ational dis­pen­sary at the start of my pot-shop­ping in­ves­ti­ga­tions last year, I didn’t know what to ex­pect. A sand­wich board on the side­walk was ad­ver­tis­ing cannabis prod­ucts, and I fig­ured this was the place to find out how much Hal­i­fax has be­come like Vic­to­ria.

Fol­low­ing the arrow on the sign led me up a non­de­script stair­case and through a glass door that was un­locked, even though a note on it said cus­tomers had to buzz in. There was a short line of peo­ple at the counter, and two clerks work­ing.

“Do you need to sign up?” a clerk asked when it was my turn.

“I don’t know,” I said, ut­terly clue­less about how to buy weed in Hal­i­fax at 10am on a Mon­day.

“You need to sign up,” he said, trad­ing me a form for my driver’s li­cense.

Recre­ational dis­pen­saries are of­ten called “19-plus” shops. Their main strat­egy to stay on the right side of the law and that means be­ing strict about see­ing a cus­tomer’s ID.

That

pain­less first trans­ac­tion had me ea­ger to visit more dis­pen­saries, and see how much Hal­i­fax com­pared to other weed­friendly cities. In turn, that made me less ner­vous about barg­ing into pot stores armed with ques­tions. Hope­fully com­ing off more jour­nal­ist than narc, I would ask, “Are you med­i­cal only, or...?” Or can I sign a waiver as­sert­ing my “right to mar­i­juana as medicine,” as some places phrase it.

At one shop, a sign by the locked door said only doc­u­mented med­i­cal pa­tients could be served. I knocked any­way, and the med­icalonly mes­sage was re­it­er­ated by the semi­an­noyed guy who opened the door.

But that was the lone med­i­cal dis­pen­sary I vis­ited that held its line so firmly. Very com­mon among oth­ers were of­fers of en­cour­age­ment or ad­vice for how I can get a pre­scrip­tion.

I was re­peat­edly told to go to Na­tional Ac­cess Cannabis, a non-dis­pens­ing med­i­cal weed ad­vo­cacy ser­vice on Spring Gar­den Road, for help nav­i­gat­ing the MMJ sys­tem.

“Tell them you don’t have a fam­ily doc­tor right now,” was a shop­keeper’s ad­vice for avoid­ing the has­sle of ques­tions from a health­care pro­fes­sional whose prac­tice might not be driven by a pot-friendly agenda. But when I tried it with a Na­tional Ac­cess staffer, she pushed back: Even if my old doc­tor had re­tired or moved away, she knew my med­i­cal records would be some­where, and NAC wanted to get them to make sure med­i­cal cannabis re­ally was right for me. This was too le­git, so I quit.

A cou­ple of stores of­fered to set me up with their in-house doctors, which was the sort of Dr. Feel­good ac­tion I ex­pected to find more of on this as­sign­ment. Un­for­tu­nately there is an “ad­min­is­tra­tive fee” for the con­sult—I got quoted prices up to $250.

At the most flex­i­ble MMJ-only dis­pen­sary I went to, the gate­keeper led with the stan­dard line about their pa­tients need­ing ei­ther the card or a pre­scrip­tion. I thanked the woman and made to leave. She wasn’t ready to lose a prospec­tive pa­tient, how­ever. If I couldn’t get a pre­scrip­tion for mar­i­juana, the dis­pen­sary would ac­cept a pre­scrip­tion for a con­di­tion that can be treated with mar­i­juana.

“Eas­i­est thing is go to a walk-in clinic,” she ex­plained.

I’d com­plain about be­ing de­pressed or hav­ing in­som­nia, and the over­worked doc­tor wouldn’t think twice about writ­ing a ’scrip for some phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal.

“Don’t ac­tu­ally get the pills, that’s a waste of money,” she said. “All we need is the pa­per pre­scrip­tion so we have some record in case any­one checks.”

Things are more straight­for­ward in the grey mar­ket’s 19-plus stores. Sign up for a mem­ber­ship with your ID, then show your ID any­time you walk in the store. And don’t be sur­prised if the per­son who serves you, the bud­ten­der, wants to see it again.

Some stores in Hal­i­fax are small with lim­ited se­lec­tion, mostly stock­ing a few jars of dried buds. Oth­ers have a full range of flower, ed­i­bles, top­i­cals (oint­ments oils, bath bombs), con­cen­trates (shat­ter, wax, but­ter), seeds for grow­ing your own and CBD, the iso­lated cannabis com­po­nent re­puted to be­stow health ben­e­fits with­out get­ting you high.

One store I wound up in is a lit­eral mo­mand-pop shop: Dad is a true be­liever who wants to help other peo­ple ac­cess the weed that helped him through sick­ness. Mom makes pot brown­ies and cook­ies. Another 19-plus has a man­date to treat its med­i­cal cus­tomers bet­ter than recre­ational users. For ex­am­ple, ter­mi­nal cancer pa­tients get free weed, be­cause who de­serves a break on medicine more than them?

Peo­ple in the med­i­cal mar­i­juana com­mu­nity un­der­stand­ably are left won­der­ing if there can be enough weed to meet their long-stand­ing le­gal, Supreme Court-en­dorsed needs and also sat­isfy recre­ational users come le­gal­iza­tion.

I’ve heard es­ti­mates from sup­pli­ers that the recre­ational mar­ket will be 5,000 per­cent big­ger than the use of med­i­cal mar­i­juana— that Cana­di­ans will spend more on grass than beer. There are cur­rently 84 li­censed pro­duc­ers al­lowed to grow pot for pub­lic sale in Canada; Nova Sco­tia alone has about 50 mi­cro­brew­eries. Down­town

on a Tues­day morn­ing be­fore 11, I’m the only cus­tomer in The Port, the bou­tique NSLC on Clyde Street. The guy be­hind the counter joins me in the wine sec­tion.

I need help choos­ing the right bot­tle of red. The clerk brings over the man­ager for a sec­ond opin­ion, who con­fi­dently rec­om­mends a Pinot Noir.

I can’t open it to smell the wine, the way some bud­ten­ders let pa­trons do in 19-plus shops. But I buy it any­way.

With the seal bro­ken on shop­ping for vices be­fore noon, I walk the cou­ple blocks to the near­est pot store. It’s my first time at this lo­ca­tion, but by now I’m some­thing of an ex­pert at the process. Se­cu­rity stops me at the door and asks for my ID, then points me to a row of chairs to wait be­fore sign­ing up.

A con­stantly re­plen­ish­ing line of about 20 cus­tomers strings from the back to the front. Mon­i­tors on the wall ad­ver­tise the daily spe­cials—two toonies on Tues­days for a pre-rolled joint in­stead of the reg­u­lar $5—and speak­ers pipe in EDM. With the three vis­i­ble se­cu­rity staff there are 13 peo­ple work­ing, all wear­ing black clothes. It’s the clos­est I’ve seen to cor­po­rate cannabis.

We’ve all grown up be­ing told by the es­tab­lish­ment that pot is evil. This year the of­fi­cial story changes. What it’ll look like when it ar­rives or how com­pletely the in­dus­try will change over the next five years of rapid evo­lu­tion, well, that re­mains hazy.

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