Cannabis user Scott Wells smokes a joint at a rally outside governments offices following the legalization of cannabis in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Black market will thrive until small pot growers and sellers included: advocates

Advocates say the black market will continue to thrive until small retail shops and craft growers are included in the regime.

A short drive away from British Columbia’s first and only legal marijuana store, Bill Semeniuk inhaled deeply from a joint outside an illegal cannabis dispensary.

The dispensary, Canadian Safe Cannabis Services, has been open in Kamloops for the better part of a decade, and Semeniuk doesn’t plan to switch to the swanky government-run shop — regardless of its legality.

“This man deserves my business. I’m loyal to him because of the fact that he was willing to sacrifice going to jail, perhaps, for providing medical marijuana to a lot of people who consider it their medicine,” he said.

The owner of the dispensary declined comment, but his outlet was among those illegal pot shops that remained open across Canada on Wednesday, despite not holding the appropriate licences. Advocates say the black market will continue to thrive until small retail shops and craft growers are included in the regime.

Canadian Safe Cannabis Services held a legalization celebration on Wednesday with a barbecue and music. A poster outside the building proclaimed, “Get high legally. Everyone 19 (years) or over welcome.”

The only legal weed that’s for sale in the province sits inside the BC Cannabis Store down the street or it can be ordered online. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said there are 173 retail applications being considered and he advised illegal stores to shut down until they are licensed.

It’s an ironic situation for a province long renowned for the quality of its bud and for cities that have taken a laissez-faire attitude toward storefront sales. Illegal dispensaries in Vancouver and Victoria also kept their doors open on Wednesday.

Semeniuk, 67, said he is a retired labourer with arthritis and lives on a tight pension. He said the Kamloops dispensary allows him to buy small amounts with what little money he has.

“There’ll be no government store that’ll let you say, ‘Please, can I pay you tomorrow?’ ” he added.

Related: Mellow opening to B.C.’s only legal pot shop

Related: Police hand out a few hefty fines for allegedly violating Cannabis Act

Related: Cheaper strains sell out within minutes on online BC Cannabis Store

Inside the gleaming BC Cannabis Store, some 92 products are for sale from 40 licensed producers, but only about seven per cent is grown inside the province. Small nuggets of bud are displayed in clear “smell jars,” but otherwise no products, logos or branding are visible, in line with Health Canada regulations.

Many different locations are being considered for future government-run stores, said Kevin Satterfield, director of cannabis store operations for the BC Liquor Distribution Branch.

“Kamloops just seemed to be the right place at the right time, where they had the zoning in place, they had a store location that was perfect for what we wanted to do,” he said.

B.C. is not the province with the worst access to legal weed. Ontario won’t have any brick-and-mortar stores until next year. Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick have about 20 stores each.

“It’s not fair to expect the government to deliver everything perfectly Day 1 when this is a huge transition,” said Ian Dawkins, president of the Cannabis Commerce Association of Canada.

“But let’s be realistic, these (illegal) retailers were very sophisticated retail enterprises in line with what you would see in a place like Colorado and Washington. … All of that sophistication is about to be blown out of the window by a tidal wave of Budweiser-grade cannabis.”

It’s not only dispensaries that feel shut out of the legal market, he added, as small-scale growers are still waiting for the federal government to open an application portal for micro-cultivator licences.

Dawkins said he doesn’t need to hypothesize about what will happen to the black market in Canada. He said he just needs to look at Washington state, where less-regulated medical dispensaries are more popular than highly restricted recreational stores five years after legalization.

“What happened at the very beginning of what they did is exactly what we’re doing in Canada,” he said.

“If you create a regulated environment and then leave an unregulated competitor, which one is going to be cheaper and better?”

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sylvan Lake Wranglers. File Photo
Sylvan Lake Wranglers ready for shorten hockey season

The HJHL will have a 20 game season, playing four games in a cohort and then going dark for 14 days

Decorate your vehicle for display at the second annual Trunk or Treat on Oct. 31 . (Blakc Press File Photo)
Sylvan Lake church to host a socially distanced Trunk or Treat on Halloween

Goblins and ghouls can go around to vehicles for their tricks or treats at the Alliance Church

Front-line hospital workers have walked off the job at the Rimbey Hospital, and across the province. Photo Submitted
Front-line health care workers on strike across the province, including Rimbey Hospital

The strike is due to cut of 11,000 health care jobs in the province, according to AUPE

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed more than 1,000 cases over the weekend Monday afternoon. File photo
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up Monday

‘We’ve now crossed the tipping point,’ says Hinshaw

Cases in Ponoka (East Ponoka County) as of Oct. 27. (alberta.ca)
Diagnosed cases of COVID-19 at three Ponoka businesses

Town ‘strongly encouraging’ residents to wear non-medical masks in public

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

The survey polled 1,523 Canadians between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25

Alberta’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday July 6, 2020. The Alberta government is hoping to get more Albertans employed by moving to limit the number and type of temporary foreign workers it allows into the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta to limit temporary foreign worker program to save jobs for Albertans

Temporary foreign workers already in the province won’t be affected

(Emily Jaycox/Bashaw Star)
Wreath laying ceremony held in Manfred, Alta.

Ceremony marks 64th anniversary of Hungarian revolution, honours settlers

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join AUPE walk outs across the province Monday Oct. 26, 2020. Shaela Dansereau/ The Pipestone Flyer.
City of Wetaskiwin health-care workers strike in protest of province-wide cuts

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join other front line hospital workers across the province in walk-outs.

Most Read