Happy Weediversary! How the first year of legal pot has played out across Canada
Cannabis is cheapest in Saskatchewan, but New Brunswick has the best-trained budtenders, says Jameson Berkow
This week, Canadians marked one year since toking up officially became a legal pastime. But cannabis consumers' actual experience of legal marijuana has not been uniform across the country.
Regulations, storefront access and product availability have varied wildly from coast to coast in the first year of legal pot — and the same will undoubtedly be true for pot-infused edibles, which became legal this week.
In the weeks leading up to Oct. 17, Globe and Mail cannabis reporter Jameson Berkow crossed the country to report on how Canadians' experiences of cannabis legalization have differed, depending on where they live.
He spoke to Day 6 host Brent Bambury about the differences he found — and what Canada's provincial governments have gotten right and wrong.
Here's part of that conversation.
Jameson, you just drove across Canada on a cannabis tour. Who has the best legal weed?
Well, I do have to say that the expectations were obviously incredibly high for British Columbia. The B.C. bud reputation definitely precedes legalization by decades.
And I mean it's not bad — but it's also pretty over-hyped.
Then who surprised you?
It was actually the East Coast, where I am now ... I mean it's not a surprise, right? Agricultural expertise in Atlantic Canada is second to none in the world. And that's really shown itself.
Who has the least access to quality legal cannabis products right now in the country?
Oh, that's absolutely ... my home province of Ontario.
You know, telling all these grey market entrepreneurs, "shut down your store and we will allow you to get a license" and then kind of betraying them all with this lottery system. You know, that's the worst.
The best, I would say, is actually Saskatchewan over Alberta — even though Alberta has the much higher number of stores.
The way that Saskatchewan has been able to seamlessly integrate their network of stores into their existing economy so that you'd really never know cannabis was illegal a year ago [has] been really quite remarkable to see.
What if I wanted to walk into a store that has a living, breathing budtender — someone who can actually tell me a lot about the product that they're offering? Where in Canada would I have the easiest time finding that level of expertise?
I would actually say New Brunswick ... because [of] the really high level of training that the staff at Cannabis NB have.
There's a lot of ... stores that are essentially afraid to say, you know, "this works for that" or "if you want this, you should try this" because of all the restrictions around what it says in the Cannabis Act that you can and cannot say about your products.
But in New Brunswick ... they're more erring on the side of information is always better.
Has the roll out of legal weed had any effect on the way weed is sold on reserves? Are Indigenous Canadians finding it easier to get their product now?
That's a great question, and I don't think I can speak to the ease of it, but it is important to stress that the Indigenous communities across Canada were essentially promised that they would get a piece of this multi-billion dollar new industry.
And I actually spoke to one First Nations leader in Winnipeg when I was stopping there who was essentially telling me that they have to create their own parallel system now to Health Canada — essentially the same kind of regulatory structure but just for Indigenous communities — because they feel ... they've kind of been left behind in favour of the major corporations that kind of dominate the market now.
One year in, there still is this thriving black market, and all of the legal entities are competing with it. You said that Saskatchewan has had more success quashing the black market than the rest of Canada. What have they done?
They're the only province in Canada where the government plays no direct role in the wholesaling of cannabis.
Everywhere else, it is the province that essentially plays middleman between the grower and the seller — and, as you might imagine, takes a pretty hefty markup in the middle.
So by having private wholesalers ... the long and short of it is, they can sell cannabis in Saskatchewan because of their efficient system for about $3 a gram less than what Canadians anywhere else in any other legal system have to pay.
And that's obviously a big advantage in trying to compete with the illegal market.
At end of fiscal, some provinces reported enormous losses for their cannabis interests in this first year. Does that mean that Canada's first year of legalization has been a failure?
It depends what your expectations were for year one.
A lot of people really had, I think — and I'll include myself in this — just completely underestimated the enormity of the task of legalization.
And not just in terms of like the logistics of, you know, stores and customers and building brands and growing a business. But the societal shift that it represents; the positive social change that goes along with cannabis legalization.
That is much harder of course. And it's something that is going to take much longer. But it's something that I think, you know, we certainly are closer to it today than we were a year ago.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Jameson Berkow, download our podcast or click 'Listen' above.