With the pandemic pinching off the supply of illicit drugs, the sale of legalized cannabis products in Newfoundland and Labrador appears to be filling some of the gap.
“Business is booming,” Thomas Clarke, owner of a licensed cannabis retail store in Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, said this week.
“I would say I have a 35 per cent increase daily, so my business is doing far better than it was before.”
Data compiled by the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation, which regulates the sale and distribution of non-medical cannabis in the province, shows that sales were up by 14 per cent in March, April and May, compared to the same time frame the previous year.
The real jaw-dropper is online sales, with a dramatic jump of 233 per cent for the same period through the NLC’s website. This surge occurred during a time when many cannabis retail stores were closed, and people were being urged to shelter in their homes.
“Our regular customers have been purchasing more because they’re sitting home doing nothing so they’re smoking more cannabis,” said Clarke.
But while Clarke is busy moving a full menu of cannabis products to his growing stable of clients, the reverse appears to be happening for those who deal in the illegal drug trade.
“A lot of the people who came since COVID started actually came from the black market because their supply had dried up,” Clarke explained.
Cocaine prices surge
Police confirm that tight travel restrictions implemented after the arrival of the COVID-19 virus in Canada earlier this year is squeezing the import of black market drugs from places like Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.
Flights into major transportation hubs like St. John’s International Airport have all but evaporated, for example, and Marine Atlantic has reduced the passenger capacity of its ships travelling the Cabot Strait between North Sydney and Port aux Basques.
What’s more, illegal drugs being sent through the mail are being scooped up more often, with more than $500,000 in cannabis shipments confiscated since April, according to the NLC.
And all these restrictions are driving up the price for harder, illicit drugs.
In fact, RCMP Staff Sgt. Stephen Conohan says the price for cocaine has doubled in recent months.
“If a person is a regular drug user, if they were paying $80 before for a gram, they could expect to pay $160. If they were paying $100 before, they could expect to pay $200 per gram,” said Conohan, the RCMP’s intelligence officer in Newfoundland and Labrador.
And sources say the quality of cocaine that is available is lower quality.
With more users turning to legal retailers Clarke said while he doesn’t like to benefit from a crisis, “it’s also nice to know I have a depression-proof business. Probably the worse times get, the more people are going to smoke cannabis.”
Cannabis was legalized in Canada 18 months ago, and Clarke was the first licensed retailer in the country to sell it legally.
It hasn’t been an easy ride since, and when the world was upended by the pandemic Clarke said his business also changed.
Many of the province’s 26 cannabis retailers closed or reduced their services during the lockdown, but Clarke kept his doors open by adopting strict physical distancing measures, including a limit of one, and later two, customers.
So he saw a lot of new faces, and believes he will keep their loyalty.
Targeting the black market
Meanwhile, neither the RCMP nor the NLC are complaining about these latest trends.
While it’s not likely to happen, both organizations would like nothing more than to put the black market out of business.