5 years in and it’s a perfect time to reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly of legal weed. It seems like only yesterday that, after decades of prohibition, cannabis was declared legal in Canada! But hold up—before we get into all that let’s start with some gratitude for living in a country with the courage to legalize weed. It’s not a perfect model, by any means, but there’s one statistic that should shine above all others in this conversation:
In 2017, 16,697 Canadians were arrested for cannabis related offences. In the two years following legalization that number dropped to 2,550, a decrease of 85%!
Regardless of how you feel about the rollout of the legal cannabis industry, I think we can all agree that the biggest victory of the past 5 years is that we can all walk down the street smoking a joint without fear of arrest—just the judgement from the guy walking behind us because the stigma is still real.
Staying with this positive vibe for a minute, we should also point to the overwhelming financial windfall that legal weed has contributed to our society. $43.5 billion to Canada’s GDP and $13.3 billion to Ontario’s GDP. To put that into perspective, The Canadian Forces budget for 2023 is $26.5 billion .
Another win is that the legal market now holds a majority of the market share over illicit/legacy cannabis, something the early skeptics said would be impossible. During the recent pandemic (remember that?!) cannabis was declared essential and our stores were allowed to stay open during most of the lockdowns.
In fact, our first 2 stores were opened under lockdown, leaving us only able to meet folks at the door for curbside pickup. Finally, from a Lisa/Stok’d perspective, Canadians who want to build small businesses in the cannabis industry are now free to do so.
Ok now that we’ve given my fellow optimists something to cheer about, we have to be honest about how far we still have to go to build an industry that works for everyone—and not just the tax man and corporate weed. Here are my top 8 things that need to be changed ASAP if we’re going to have a thriving industry on the 10 year anniversary of legalization.
As I mentioned in my email last week, we can and must do more to shift towards sustainable packaging. Hemp plastic and other compostable materials are available, we just need to find a way to bring them into our industry. Let’s be as green as the buds we love to smoke!
I can empathize with regulators when it comes to setting edible limits. Edibles can cause extreme discomfort if someone over-consumes. Since everyone’s tolerance is vastly different (even among daily consumers) it’s a big challenge to get the dosage limits right. Having said that, by capping at 10mg per package of THC you’re effectively leaving out a humongous segment of consumers for whom 10mg may have little or no effect. It’s just too expensive for some folks to purchase the dosage they need. I support 10mg/piece but would like to see the limit bumped to 100mg per package + consumer education campaigns to let new consumers know they need to “start low and go slow”.
Adjacent to the limits on edibles is the limit for consumers walking around with no more than 30g of dried flower. This is a pretty low limit when you consider lots of daily smokers can consume an ounce in less than a week. And why does it matter how much I’m carrying since it has no relation to how much I’m consuming RIGHT NOW? Imagine being told you can never have more than one 26-er on you at any time? And think of the last time you bought and had more than that on you – doesn’t mean you’re consuming it all at once, right? Some stores get around this by creating multiple orders but this is a sketchy workaround since it puts both the retailer and consumer into a questionable legal situation. With medical consumers entitled to carry as much as 150 grams of flower there’s definitely room to raise the recreational limit without coming close to the medical one – or eliminating the limit all-together.
Even though corporate retail stores are shutting down or declaring bankruptcy (🙄 Looking at you Fire & Flower who stole the spot we wanted in Morningside Mall), large public companies are able to engage in price wars and take huge losses. Independent retailers don’t have the luxury of existing in the red so either have to follow the race to the bottom (which also harms micro cultivators) or close their doors. It’s a whole different ball game when you’re spending investor’s money instead of your own.
We’re also squeezed by the unregulated shops in our neighbourhoods, unable to compete on price or marketing due to crazy and overreaching regulations. Government needs to either regulate these unlicensed shops or remove some of the restrictions around inducements (i.e. discounts and free products) that give them a leg up in marketing.
Speaking of marketing, both retailers and cultivators alike need to be given more opportunities to build their brands by marketing to their customers. Currently we’re severely limited, both in terms of regulations but also with the anti-cannabis terms of service most social media platforms operate with. We’re on our 5th (!) Instagram account and have never been told what we did wrong to cause the previous 4 to be deleted.
A giant plank of prohibition may have been removed 5 years ago today, but that doesn’t mean cannabis businesses and consumers are welcomed in all corners of society. Whether it’s our banks charging exorbitant fees just to open an account or our cities denying licences for consumption lounges or the microaggressions we still get for being “stoners” at family gatherings, we have a lot of work to do to normalize cannabis in this country.
To say nothing of the 61 municipalities in Ontario that represent over 1 million people that don’t allow any legal retailers, including Vaughan, Whitby, Markham, Newmarket and Caledon. When it comes to the private sector, cannabis businesses also have to contend with banks that treat us like we’re money launderers, insurance companies whose policies tend toward a 401 robbery, and landlords who jack up rents thinking they’ve won the lottery when a cannabis retailer comes calling.
Finally, we also need to address the tax liabilities cultivators are saddled with or we’ll only have a few large corporate growers who, *checks notes, largely haven’t been able to produce weed that people actually enjoy. For those who don’t know, the excise tax was set at $1/gram, which was set when it was thought that weed would be wholesaling at $8-10/gram. I’ll quote Matt Lamers from MJBIZ.com as to why the current tax rate is cuckoo bananas:
“The excise formula was created by policymakers who expected wholesale prices for flower – the most popular consumer segment – to be at least CA$10 per gram…Current wholesale prices are closer to CA$2.75 per gram or less, depending on the product, with some flower coming in under CA$1 per gram.”
So there you have it, my many hot takes on how to make the next 5 years of legalization a success. We’ve come a long way from 2018 and we need to celebrate (woohoo!!) but we also have a long way to go and should be honest about that too.
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