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