Why Should Anyone Turn Away from the Black Market to Buy “Legal” Cannabis?

As I stand in my buddy Steve’s garage smoking a well-deserved joint at the end of a long day, talk turns to the fact that even though he’s smoked for decades, and has good friends in the legal cannabis industry, he has yet to set foot inside a single legal cannabis store.

When I asked him why not, his response was simple: “Why should I change anything about where I get my weed?”

It’s a great question; one that pretty much every person that consumed cannabis for years, if not decades, before it became legal, has to ask themselves.

The fact is that for most people who already have a reliable plug, there isn’t much to attract them away from the black or grey markets they currently utilize.

Inconsistent quality, lack of supply, ridiculous packaging, inconvenient hours of operation and high prices are all reasons to avoid the legal pot shops in the first year of legalization, and if you don’t have a reliable hook-up already, what’s offered online or in the many grey-market dispensaries all over Canada is way more attractive than anything you can buy legally.

And since legalization, there appears to be much more attention paid to restrict the actions of those who went through the legal licensing process to open up shop than has ever been applied to shutting down those who opened up without bothering with legalities.

So what exactly gives the legal market an advantage over the existing black and grey markets?

In my opinion, and the opinions of just about everyone I know that smoked before legalization, the answer is: currently, nothing.

Those who truly love the plant and are willing to invest hundreds if not thousands of dollars as regular customers will need to be wooed over to the legal side, not by appealing to their sense of morality or lawfulness, but rather, by providing what the black market can’t: safety, consistency and focused, high-quality cannabis experiences — at a price that considers existing appetites for cost.

True, even the most loyal black-market buyer thinks it’s nice to walk down the street to buy a pre-roll when they are out on the town and on empty. But that won’t be enough to accomplish the type of legal market promised to us by the Canadian Government in 2016.

The legal market needs to consider/adjust four things as it attempts to remove the current stigma attached to buying cannabis at a retail outlet:

1. Price: People are willing to pay a bit more for convenience, consistency and quality, but only if all three are way above average. Right now, the prices are higher than the black market, and the quality, weight and consistency are all (often) below average.

2. Products: Adults are ready to be trusted with cannabis the same way they are trusted with alcohol; let them decide how they want to consume it. Edibles, pure-CBD, extracts and other alternatives all need to be made legal so that anyone that wants to consume, can do so responsibly, however they choose. As well, those products that are currently being produced in multi-million dollar facilities, need to separate themselves from the basement-grown black market.

3. Packaging: The existing laws surrounding cannabis packaging do very little to help drive safety and responsibility, as they claim, and do a ton to frustrate buyers, dilute the culture and hurt the environment.

4. Policy: The delays in license approvals have led to products remaining in vaults for too long, which leads to a lack of products in the stores when they are needed, and dried out, poor quality, short weight products being sold, with no clear path or policy to complain and receive compensation for poor-quality products. The stores blame the LPs, the LPs blame the system, and the system seems to care very little about the common customer.

If the true purpose of legalizing cannabis in Canada is to provide a valuable product to those who can truly benefit from its use, then the industry needs to rectify its shortcomings to-date, and clearly communicate the “why” behind its justification for replacing the black market.

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