Under a thick haze of smoke, October 17, 2018 saw Canada officially legalize recreational Cannabis throughout its provinces after months of delays and setbacks.
However, despite the ostensibly positive reception by many Canadians, the legal weed system that has been rolled out by the Ontario provincial government has left a bad taste in the mouth of Ontarians who feel that an already thriving industry is being co-opted in the name of state control.
However a glimmer of free market anarchism is shining through,and now the fight is on to see just how far the politicians will go to maintain their grip on the cash-cow of legal pot.
Toronto: A proud history of Agorism
Toronto has a long history of proud Cannabis use, with the city playing host to a multitude of grassroots, black-market dispensaries. In fact at one point, there was more dispensary storefronts than pizza shops.
These small, locally run dispensaries are generally not on par with their more developed counterparts in famous pot hot-spots like Colorado and California, however many made a valiant effort to present a clean and professional environment from which to supply people with their herbal medications.
Some want as far as setting up computerized membership databases and checking I.D’s at the door in a self-enforced effort to reduce supply to minors. As a side note, one may ponder that “street-dealers” are not known for confirming the age of their buyers, which begs the question of how the state is able to claim “harm-reduction” when raiding and shutting down these establishments.
Despite ongoing police harassment, enterprising stoners continue to thrive, with a staunch unwillingness to be stamped out by the state, even in the face of serious criminal penalties.
Co-opt and Control: The Provincial Blueprint
The government of Ontario are no strangers to monopolization of high-demand (read: cash-cow) items. They have used this modus operandi before nearly a century ago, and it worked like a charm.
Enter the Liquor Control Board of Ontario – also known as the LCBO (or Lick-bo as the Torontonians say). Formed in 1927 on the advice of then-premier Howard Ferguson as a means of easing the temperance regime in the province, the LCBO functions as a crown-corporation which controls and regulates the supply of liquor Ontario-wide.
Although some smaller private firms such as The Beer Store do function independently, these corporations are still required to seek approval and adhere to mandates from the LCBO corporation, making these independent retailers essentially beholden to the state legislature in any case.
Since its formation in the late ‘20’s the LCBO has been the sole entity in control of the legal alcohol market in the province, the LCBO maintains a comfortable monopoly on pricing, supply and regulation at all touch points in the market, from wholesale to storefront.
Well, now it seems the provincial government aims to replicate its business model with the legal cannabis industry.
With the official legalization came an increase in criminal penalties for those convicted of trafficking of cannabis, along with heavy-handed enforcement conducted against black-market dispensaries in a concerted effort to stamp out all forms of competition to the state-authorized supply.
A Slap In The Face
It’s clear at this point that the Ontario government is bringing everything it has to bear in the fight to monopolize the cannabis market.
Some see this as a positive move, citing tighter regulation over the supply-chain, eliminating the risks of dangerous pesticide contamination, mould etc. This is all well and good assuming the system functions as intended – safe, simple access to quality cannabis.
Unfortunately, in the states’ mad rush to seize the market, the system delivered by the government leave plenty to be desired. With no brick-and-mortar storefronts set to open until at least April 2019, currently, the only legal avenue for cannabis is via the OCS (Ontario Cannabis Store) website.
In a frustrating turn of events, the launch of the new OCS coincided almost perfectly with the rolling Canada post strikes, resulting in extended delays to many eager cannabis enthusiasts.
The ultimate insult comes as one takes a step back and looks at the current legalization framework from the context of cannabis prohibition.
As it stands, the government of Ontario has all but seized control of a market that they have gone out of their way to crush out of existence for the past century or so, conveniently a few years after they’ve had a chance to see the enormous profit opportunity that exists within the market from the neighbours in the USA.
The Black Market Provides
Predictably, many potential customers were put off by the bungled roll-out, but were faced with a dilemma: wait around for weeks from the time of their order to actually receiving it, or turn back to the black market for what they need?
Many chose the latter and will continue to do so.
This is a simple study of market dynamics in action. These black-market dispensaries simply fill a market demand that the government lacks both the experience and understanding to deliver effectively.
Consumers want what they want, and they want it now. In the private market, vendors either fill the need in a timely and cost-effective manner, or they’re put out of business by competitors who do.
Instead, the overarching implication made by the shoddy rollout of the OCS is that of state arrogance:
“We can’t deliver what we promise, so you can just wait. Don’t go to the black market or we’ll arrest you”.
Bureaucracy at its’ Finest
With all the uproar about legal cannabis, one simple question seems to have been lost on many:
With a functional and growing market already in place in Ontario, consisting of both Brick-and-mortar storefronts and even home-delivery services, why was an entirely separate, state-monopolized framework needed at all?
Countless hours must surely have been spent in creating this leaky boat which is kept floating by little more than promises of offering what is already available, but at a higher price-point.
To add insult to injury, the Ford government offered an ultimatum – Close up shop by legalization day and earn the right to apply for a permit to operate later in the year.
The question remains:
Why not allow currently established market actors to simply continue their operations, free from the requirement to pay for the right to simply supply a product to a willing adult market?
Self-Regulation is Good Business
Although the regulation supporters often cry “safety” in support of their cause, the real-world evidence shows that the cannabis industry is very much self-aware and cognizant of the need to cover its’ bases in terms of keeping THC products away from minors and minimizing the impact of cannabis use on the greater public.
Most black market suppliers, both online and brick-and-mortar have strict identification requirements including requiring an upload of your ID prior to fulfilling any orders or dispensing cannabis to anyone.
Many products also come in childproof packaging, especially edible products that could easily be consumed by children.
This isn’t a government mandate – many of these are black market suppliers (“dealers” if you will), yet they clearly understand the importance of keeping kids away from their product – it’s’ simply good business.
Innovators within the industry have also responded to calls for more discrete methods of cannabis consumption – the rapid development of the enormous vape market is allowing cannabis users to discreetly use their products without bothering others nearby with the smell of smoke and ash.
Despite what the state would have you believe, the cannabis industry, by and large, is highly focused on maintaining a positive image. After decades of negative press, no one is too keen to step out of line, and almost everyone understands that even minor problems are bad for everyone.
In terms of consumer safety – crowd-sourced feedback services such as weedmaps.com allow customers to pre-qualify nearby black market dispensaries easily, and dispensaries to list their menus and pricing. The result of this is a market-based quality control system, ensuring suppliers are under constant scrutiny and pressure to deliver quality, affordably.
The Bottom Line
Even with the police crackdown that followed legalization, a number of fearless entrepreneurs forge onward, undeterred by the legal risks.
Regardless of your stance on cannabis – One would hope that this spirit of free-market anarchism is wholeheartedly supported by those who value personal freedoms and understand the pervasive nature of state control systems.
What’s been revealed in practice is that legalization has nothing to do with making us freer. Instead, it’s a carrot that has been dangled to capture the attention of the masses while a cash-grab scheme is conducted behind their backs, pillaging an established industry that has been made into criminals for conducting the very same business that the state now wants in on.