From culture to industry: growing pains in cannabis distribution

For the majority of its modern existence, marijuana has persevered without backing from any kind of formal industry. Instead, consumers ensured the distribution of marijuana through an underground...

For the majority of its modern existence, marijuana has persevered without backing from any kind of formal industry. Instead, consumers ensured the distribution of marijuana through an underground network of growers and sellers.

While it’s true some of these growers and sellers were involved with large criminal organizations, there were also those who simply disagreed with laws that prohibited a plant whose ill effects were less than those of alcohol and cigarettes. Marijuana soon became a symbol in a culture that relied on peaceful resistance in order to effect change.

But change rarely comes without contention. And as cannabis in Canada moves from an underground culture to a full-fledged industry, the national ideology has shifted from a grassroots movement to mainstream politics.

Obstacles to access

While weed has, in some ways, been accepted as a form of medicine since the ’90s, some patients required the services of a handful compassion clubs for access, or they tried to grow their own. The only other option was to buy through Health Canada and Prairie Plant Systems, the only licensed producer in the country. Health Canada became the country’s sole supplier of medical cannabis.

In 2013, the conservative-led government expanded the regulations to include (eventually) 33 licensed producers, while it continued to wage a war on marijuana. It pushed police forces to outlaw unlicensed dispensaries and removed the provision that allowed consumers to grow their own.

While some of these changes have been reduced, the law still doesn’t allow for the storefront sale of marijuana to medical patients. One provision in the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations states that “a licensed producer must not transfer physical possession of the dried marihuana [sic] to the client or to an individual responsible for that client other than by shipping it to that person.”

An ever-changing industry

These measures should have given licensed producers an advantage over unlicensed dispensaries, but that hasn’t been the case. Consumer demand for concentrates and edibles was increasing, but Health Canada prevented licensed producers from creating and selling these products until the second half of 2015.

Even so, with legalization looming, the licensed producers remain in a favourable position with a strong lobby within local and federal governments. Some are even being publicly traded on the TSX, which gives them extra capital that can be used to set up their own network of dispensaries once new regulations are announced, while expanding their operations to meet the new demand of recreational consumers.

But there are some complications. Though a federal court judge had determined that the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations violated charter rights, he made it clear that this ruling did not affect current regulations regarding recreational use. A few B.C. residents have challenged the law against storefront access to marijuana, which has brought more attention to this issue. However, consumers don’t want to initiate another system that mirrors the tobacco or alcohol industries, where only a few massive players dominate.

What consumers desire are small-scale production, craft products, and storefront distribution, all things that the new federal task force does not want to introduce. But in order for legalization to succeed, convenient access needs to be part of the solution.

Feature Photo: Iriana Shiyan / Shutterstock.com

In this article


Join the Conversation