Legal cannabis beats illicit pot

Published on September 1, 2020 by David Wylie

An early version of Moonbeam by Tweed. It smelled like grandpa's coat, but hit like a bag of hammers. David Wylie/okanaganz

We are at a significant milestone in Canadian cannabis history.

Legal cannabis surpassed the black market for the first time. Statistics Canada data shows spending on legal weed (medical and recreational combined) was $803 million, while spending on illicit pot was $785 million in the second quarter of 2020.

The scales are tipping.

The black market has been losing turf on multiple fronts – fewer customers, brain drain, crackdown on unlicensed brick-and-mortar. Meanwhile, legal cannabis has been gaining ground – Cannabis 2.0, innovation, legitimacy.

While there have been growing pains, the quality is up and cost is down; that’s what counts for customers.

Kelowna Spiritleaf franchise owner Tarek Shbib said the shift is a huge deal.

He said the massive amount of products now available on the market is incomparable to before, and the level of innovation on the legal side is tough to compete with.

“From nano-emulsion being used in drinks for much faster THC delivery into the body, to state of the art facilities using large scale C02 extraction to create potent and safe products that consumers can feel confident in using,” Shbib said.

It’s especially true as more concentrates come out into the market, including shatter, live rosin, caviar, as well as badder/budder.

“Products like these are not easy to produce safely, and so our customers appreciate that when they come to our stores, they know the product they go home with is safe and has been tested and made in a facility approved by Health Canada,” he said.

“I think it shows that the legal market has matured to a point where consumers now consider it the norm when looking to purchase cannabis products.”

Here’s another interesting sign of our changing times.

Some of the most stubborn black market growers are being wooed to legitimacy with lower-cost micro-licences and a one-time opportunity to bring their own cannabis genetics to legality, no questions asked.

B.C.-based legacy grower Travis Lane is in the process of going legit.

He told virtual attendees of The Growing Summit that the future of cannabis is in the legal space.

Still, regulatory requirements are a major turn-off, he said.

“The fact of the matter is, it has been onerous to transfer from something where we didn’t have a lot of rules and regulations,” he said.

“We didn’t have to do paperwork. I say this a lot, but back in the day, we didn’t do reporting because that was called evidence. If someone found, ‘hey, here’s your feeding schedule for your illegal drugs,’ then that could come back to bite you in court.”

Lane doesn’t shy away from his past, yet he still received his security clearance after six to eight weeks.

“One of the messages I often put out there for fellow growers is that I support anybody who wants to stay in the illicit market, and I support anyone who wants to convert over. It’s been a long fight just to get to legalization and no one should be condemned for continuing to break the law in my opinion; no one should go to jail for a plant. They shouldn’t have their life ruined for it.”

Tell us, do you call it:

  • the black market
  • the legacy market
  • the illicit market
  • other

Email [email protected].

By The Ounce columns also appear on Castanet.net and in the pages of The Daily Courier and Penticton Herald.

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Photo is from our Moonbeam review early on in legalization.