Pot Shots: How Legal Cannabis Hits Different in Canada and the U.S.

Article by Guy Saddy, BC Business

Health Pot Shots: How legal cannabis hits different in Canada and the U.S. Guy Saddy

The geographical neighbours only have so much in common when it comes to pot

When it comes to cannabis, Canadians sometimes think we’re the starship Enterprise—exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and so on. We were the first G7 country to go all-in for legalizing the demon weed on a national basis, right? Sure. But Canada is hardly the only place in North America to allow recreational cannabis use, nor were we the first. In fact, it could be argued that Canada has been late to, well, the pot party.

As much as it pains us, we must acknowledge that gun-toting libertarian states like Colorado and Alaska were on board for full legalization years before we tabled C-45. So can we learn anything from looking at U.S. jurisdictions that beat us to the punch?

Perhaps, but it’s almost impossible to make an apples-to-apples comparison. There are now only three remaining U.S. states where cannabis for any purpose is strictly illegal. However, the other 47 are far from consistent in their approach.

Some, like Arizona and Arkansas, only allow medical use. Others, like Texas, have created an impenetrable matrix of rules; although recreational use is illegal in the Lone Star State, several of its urban centres have so-called cite-and-release programs. Combine that with a truly bizarre treatment of medical cannabis (you can possess CBD oil as long as it has at least 10-percent CBD), and it’s clear that someone is smoking more than Marlboros in Austin.

But even comparing B.C. to the 12 so-called Level 1 jurisdictions—where medical and adult recreational use is permitted—doesn’t necessarily provide any easy extrapolations. “We actually break it down into different states and different provinces,” says Liz Stahura, co-founder and president of BDS Analytics, a Colorado-based cannabis market research firm. The closest comparison between the B.C. market and those in the U.S.? Unsurprisingly, it’s likely California. “In B.C., there is still a thriving legacy or illicit market,” Stahura notes. “That’s pretty similar to what we see in California.”

As with B.C., the initial rollout in California wasn’t particularly smooth. The difficulties were amplified by having to make the leap from a vibrant unregulated market to one defined by, some would argue, regulatory excess. By the end of 2017, there were about 3,000 cannabis retailers and service providers operating in California. Then legalization kicked in. “The clock reset on January 1 of 2018, so all of those [existing] retailers had to get a new licence in order to legally operate,” Stahura says. The results were predictable. “By the end of January, there were less than 200 licensed retailers in the entire state.”

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