Canada’s newly opened legal cannabis stores are losing out on trade to the still existing black economy.
When the government launched Canada's official recreational-pot market on Oct. 17, it was banking on the idea that many users would prefer to buy legally and that the black market would quickly fade. It says things seem on track, with "early reports of a 65 percent reduction for illegally sourced products," according to a spokeswoman for the minister in charge of the cannabis file.
But there are also signs things aren't going as expected. In a national poll conducted a month after legalisation, more than a third of Canadian cannabis users said they were still buying from their regular dealers and hadn't even tried the legal system. In fact, five illegal sellers in Quebec told The Washington Post their sales are slightly up.
To the black marketeers, the bare-bones legal supplies are "pretty much a running joke," said one illicit dealer. "People are buying the legal containers so they can put their black-market weed in it," the rogue said.
Many researchers, politicians and investors see the state of the black market as an important gauge of the new policy's success. But if it doesn't shrink naturally, Canadian authorities face trying to make it shrink or having to drastically change policy.
"You've got to get the timing right," said Mark Kleiman, a New York University professor and expert on cannabis legalisation.
Illegal cannabis sales are notoriously hard to measure. In Washington state, for example, experts' best estimate six years after legalisation is that there's still a significant market.