From Grey To Green: The State Of The Canadian Marijuana Market

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Canada’s relationship with marijuana has been cultivated by civil disobedience, court challenges, and arcane government distribution systems. Recently however, Canada has begun making real progress towards an open and regulated marijuana market. Canadian Health Minister Jane Philpott’s announcement at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on April 20th, 2016 was no coincidence; on the biggest pot holiday of the year Canada made it clear: legal cannabis is coming to North America.

With the birth of a new industry right around the corner, it’s worth taking a look how one can currently obtain marijuana in Canada, and how that could change as legislators develop the means with which to regulate a recreational cannabis market, from production to consumption.

Medical Marijuana

Federally licensed producers (LPs) are currently the primary source of legal medical marijuana in Canada. The Canadian Government first permitted patients to access medical marijuana under the Marihuana For Medical Access Purposes (MMAR) as early as 2001, however over the years both amendments (Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, June 2013) and court challenges (Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations – August 2016) have continued to shape Canada’s medical marijuana system.

Today the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) functions as Canada’s primary medical marijuana framework, providing both production and distribution of medical marijuana products. While the ACMPR was designed to satisfy both court challenges and the desires of patients, concerns remain regarding both the safety and reliability of the products being offered.

Canada’s medical marijuana is grown by licensed producers (LPs) chosen by the Federal Government to safely grow and distribute cannabis in Canada. By carefully selecting the amount of large-scale producers legally allowed to produce cannabis, the Federal Government has put itself in a position to regulate its new industry from ground up. Due to this mechanism, LPs are generally viewed as the safest means through which Canadians can obtain medical marijuana, however a recent recall of products made by the licensed producer Organigram has brought into question the safety products distributed under the ACMPR system.

Organigram has had its organic certification suspended and is now under federal investigation due to the use of two pesticides which are known to cause serious health defects in humans. Patients like Alvina Savoie of Neguac, New Brunswick have reported serious issues due to consuming these products, specifically because she not only smoked but baked edibles with the allegedly tainted product.

“I still have breathing problems, still have a rash — it burns from the inside out. I just want to scratch but I know I can’t When no doctors want to help you, I don’t even know what to do.”

– CBC News, “Ex Organigram customer says she still suffers from contaminated medical pot” February, 2017”

Grey Market Marijuana

Without a defined marijuana marketplace, the average Canadian has had to be resourceful in order to secure a connection to the grey market of Canadian marijuana. What was once a game run by business-savvy hippies and organized criminals is now slowly being taken over by the craft cannabis industry in Canada, one which does not require violence to achieve its goals. However this has not stopped those from the criminal end of the spectrum from crossing over into more legitimate business enterprises.

Emboldened by growing police apathy towards marijuana-related crimes, grey market options in Canada like dispensaries, craft cannabis companies, and other marijuana-related startups have developed innovative ways to market themselves and deliver to their clientele. While their predecessors had to compete for both clients and territory, the digital age has equipped marijuana businesses with the ability to complete transactions from afar without disrupting the general population, leaving little reason for law enforcement to involve itself.

In cities like Vancouver, British Columbia this relaxed attitude towards cannabis has resulted in a vast array of store-front dispensaries rushing in to supply an eager market. In the summer of 2016 there were over 100 known dispensaries operating in the city, leaving consumers to make the choice for themselves in what was a unique municipal experiment. And while some are happy to experiment with different types of marijuana, many others have been left to figure out marijuana on their own, without any guarantee of a real answer.  

“How do I know what I’m smoking? Where was this grown? Is this sativa or indica? Is this really Jack Herer, or is it actually Bubba Kush? Will this make me sleepy? Why doesn’t this smell like the weed I’m used to?“

These questions have been on the minds of smokers for decades, however today we have the knowledge and technology to answer most of marijuana’s simple mysteries. Your parents may have had to trust their “guy” that what they were smoking really was Pineapple Express, however today we have the ability to identify and describe marijuana in a myriad of ways, allowing customers to make an informed decision about their next high. And while strain names like Girl Scout Cookies, Alaskan Thunderfuck, Alien OG, and Bubba Kush can seem confusing, consumers are being provided with more and more information every time they visit their vendor of choice.

Recent regulatory schemes in the United States have shown an open recreational marijuana market has the potential to become a large and self-sustaining industry, one that need not come at the cost of public health or safety. In fact, there are many reasons to believe a properly regulated marijuana industry will benefit the public at large, however Canada itself has a ways to go before it can boast a federal system that rivals either Washington or Colorado.

Author Kevin Vanstone has worked in the Canadian marijuana industry, and now follows its evolution from the other side of the counter. Look for more cannabis-related content from Kevin here on Bonsai in the future, including a deeper look at dispensaries in the wild, unregulated West.