Article by Terence Corcoran, Financial Post
Somebody somewhere must be working on a script for Potbusters, the hilarious story of the bumbling attempt by Canada’s political, regulatory and corporate establishments — the high powers of the mixed economy — to take over the national market for cannabis. It’s a riot of bureaucratic slapstick, pompous posturing, regulatory pretentiousness, corporate schemers and botched financial planning: a true comedy.
A character played by Bill Murray, an old pro operator of flame-thrower equipment, arrives at a suburban Toronto warehouse to perform his Potbuster duties. Wearing heavy gear with the words “Health Canada” written across the back, he looks through grizzled, experienced eyes at a 12,000-kilogram mound of cannabis. There’s something you don’t see every day. Gotta be worth a hundred million at least,” he says.
Beside him, also in Health Canada gear, is another old pro Potbuster played by Dan Aykroyd: “Oh my God. This is a harmless mound of pot. Something I’ve loved since my childhood. Something that could never possibly destroy us. We used to smoke it by the fire at Camp Oconda.”
“So what. We got a job to do — one, two, three.” The characters crouch down and blast flames at the cannabis, which explodes in yellow blaze and pungent smoke. The Aykroyd character breaks down, almost in tears. “How did we come to this?”
Somebody else can finish the script, but it’s a good question.
The scene describes the latest wonky development in Canada’s absurd one-year-old cannabis legalization experiment — the very first policy initiative of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s newly elected Liberal government in 2015.
Since then, hundreds of millions of dollar have been splashed around the country by investors looking to make quick dollars by manufacturing and distributing a product that already had a functioning, low-cost market system in place. Some call it the black market, but the existing market was in fact the closest perfect example of a free market — a low-cost, high-quality product — without the benefit of stock brokers, securities regulators, scheming politicians and corporate wheeler-dealers attempting to capitalize on government regulation.
It turned out one of those companies, CannTrust Holdings Inc., had been secretly growing cannabis products in unlicensed portions of its Ontario facilities, without proper approval from Health Canada. The department moved in, seized the products involved, and has ordered their destruction. How? Who ya gonna call? Potbusters.
How did we arrive at a point where a legal corporation finds itself in the clink for doing what thousands of people have been doing illegally and mostly freely for decades?
Here’s another funny scene set-up for this regulatory/corporate comedy: The offices of Statistics Canada in Ottawa, where the nation’s crack statistics bureaucrats set up a team to plumb the data depths of the national cannabis market. They called it the Cannabis Stats Hub, which produced StatsCannabis data. Look it up if you think I’m kidding.
Since establishing the Cannabis Stats Hub about five years ago, the agency has been cranking out hilarious reports and studies, with such titles such as “Experimental Estimates of Cannabis Consumption in Canada, 1960 to 2015,” “Crowdsourced cannabis prices,” and “A Cannabis Economic Account — The Framework.”