Canada blazed a new trail this year, by becoming the second country in the world to legalize recreational marijuana, but the future of pot in the country is still a little hazy, with the federal government now promising to have edibles on the market by the end of next year.
To cheers and drums B.C.’s first, and at the time only, legal recreational marijuana store opened its doors promptly at 10 a.m. on Oct. 17, hours after the stroke of midnight heralded in a new era of legalized pot for adults across the nation.
More than 100 people waited outside, some for more than three hours in the brisk morning air, to be the first inside the new government-owned dispensary that looked more like an Apple store than a pot shop.
In the days and weeks that passed, apocalyptic predictions of spikes in impaired driving crashes and emergency room visits never came to pass, but two months since legalization, Canada is still working out some kinks, namely with supply, enforcement, and those who say the fight over cannabis legalization isn’t over yet.
LISTEN: NEWS 1130’s Lasia Kretzel looks back on marijuana legalization
A Canada post-legalization
Since legalization of dried cannabis products, shops and producers across the nation have reported supply shortages as they strain to meet consumer demand. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blames pockets of resistance for the shortage that has slowed the dissemination of legal weed, particularly municipalities in Quebec and Ontario. He expects the problem to be solved within the next few months, but industry experts say it could be years because of tough Health Canada regulations.
The shortages have been most pronounced in Ontario, forcing the province to limit the number of licenced pot dispensaries that will open in the spring.
B.C. has seen some bare shelves, but Vivianna Zanacco with the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch says the west coast province has fared better than others.
“We’ve been very fortunate because we really sourced a lot of product and a lot of different product from, I think there were only 20 suppliers for all of Ontario and we have upwards in the 70s,” she said. “We had people lining up until after closing until recently. The online sales are really strong.”
Watch: Five things you need to know about Canada’s marijuana legalization
The Medicinal Cannabis Resource Centre (MCRC) says since legalization, some of its clients have had trouble getting their prescriptions and some are turning back to the grey market, a dangerous gamble for someone with a compromised immune system.
“The anxiety that a lot of these patients are feeling now, they’ve come up with in the past year or several years a very clean, qualified product that they are comfortable is grown properly,” MCRC president Terry Roycroft said.
Zanacco says BC can expect new stores to open “in the dozens” as they receive municipal approval and licenses from the liquor and cannabis regulation branch.
The future of legally grey dispensaries
Despite hundreds of applications before legalization, B.C. only has one government-owned recreational store and two approved private licenses. Several cities, including Vancouver, New Westminster and Delta have all shown a willingness to allow pot shops, but have yet to approve any.
Following a B.C. Supreme Court decision ordering illegal dispensaries to close, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said the city will give the shops time to transition into the legal market, but they are expected to go legal or close down.
BC Solicitor General Mike Farnworth previously recommended illegal dispensaries close and reopen under the legal format if they wanted to stay in business.
Ottawa has vowed to strengthen laws aimed at punishing serious cannabis offences, including selling pot to kids, and driving under the influence. It set THC blood concentrations limits for drivers and new laws allowed police to demand a saliva sample at roadside drug screenings.
However, there’s only one approved road side drug test, the Draeger DrugTest 5000, but it’s been met with heavy criticism and hasn’t been widely adopted by police forces across the country.
The federal government also promised to pardon some cannabis criminal records this year, but no action has was taken before legislators left for winter break.
“I think we’ve made some great progress in 2018, but the prohibitionist mindset and the anti-cannabis agenda is still very strong,” long-time marijuana activist Dana Larsen said.
Next up: Edibles
Larsen said next year’s 4/20 event at Vancouver’s Sunset Beach will have lots to celebrate, but he said the fight isn’t over yet.
“I’d like to see the B.C. government stand up stronger for British Columbia’s cannabis industry,” he said. “Federally, I hope that the federal government, especially this coming year, will get the extracts, edibles and other products online.”
On Dec. 20, Ottawa announced proposed new rules for edibles to get them on the market by Oct. 17, 2019. They included limiting the main psychoactive ingredient THC, packaging “shelf stable” products in plain packaging and banning it being added to certain foods like meat unless it is dried.
Larsen and Roycroft both said all levels of government need to speed up approval of new dispensaries. They would also like to see medical growers, who were previously approved by the federal government, rolled into the legal market across the country.
Larsen also hopes cities will work with current, smaller dispensaries to keep them open as Canada navigates this new and near uncharted path into the New Year.
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