It’s very distressing to see how legalization has unfolded
Jodie Emery says that many of the activists that fought so hard to get the drug legal have now been “thrown under the bus” by the forces of legalization, with some facing criminal records.
It’s not hard to see what she is saying. There is a sense that the industry has been taken over by “suits” — more business-oriented people who may not be passionate about the plant or even care for it. Just think of former Toronto chief of police Julian Fantino, who once compared weed to murder and is now running a cannabis business. Emery says people are hopping on board to make a buck.
“When you go into [a legal cannabis] business, there’s no heart, spirit or soul,” she says. “It’s just the same packages that every other store carries.”
Emery romanticizes the days when cannabis wasn’t grown in big factories but in smaller communities. Now, she says there are so many obstacles to getting into the legal business, such as licensing fees and background checks, that it is “not accessible for the vast majority of people.”
“You really need to be a millionaire or connected to a millionaire to open a legal retail store,” she says.
Even the legal stores that are opening aren’t aware of the “history of persecution” connected to cannabis, according to Emery.
She says that customers feel this lack of passion for the plant, and have told her that they avoid legal stores because the product is inferior and expensive compared to what they could get in the black market.
Indeed, Statistics Canada reported that one year after legalization, just 29 per cent of cannabis users said they got their bud from a legal source, while four in 10 said they bought it from an illegal source.
Getting Back to Its Roots
So how can the cannabis industry get back to its roots?
One way is for legal companies to embrace the expertise of those who were active in the black market. A number of these “legacy players” already have joined up with legal cannabis operators, including cannabis grower Kevin Anderson.
Anderson is now the award-winning master grower for Vancouver Island-based producer Broken Coast, but before the gilded days of legalization, he hinted that he had a reputation for growing killer weed.
“There’s a reason I got offered the position at Broken Coast … and it certainly wasn’t because I grew bad cannabis,” he says with a laugh.
Anderson says people active in the illicit days of cannabis are very important to the current industry because they are the ones who actually know how to grow the plant.
“Cannabis is a very different beast,” he says. “It doesn’t necessarily like exactly the same things as some other crops.”
Experience is a necessity to grow high-quality weed because it helps you determine what a good or bad crop is and how to deal with it. But most important is having a passion for the plant.
While legacy players can help legal companies find their footing, there are still limits to the heights they can reach in the legal environment.
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