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Justin Trudeau: Canada’s Pot Prince

illustration by Dylan McDermott

illustration by Dylan McDermott

By Coleman Molnar

 

There may be a sea of Liberal red covering the country, but ever since the election of Justin Trudeau, many Canadians are seeing green. Sweet, sticky, skunky green. And it’s not just the consumer who’s going to benefit, but business, too.

Justin Trudeau promised to legalize weed—that’s no secret. Since the beginning of his campaign, it’s been a pillar issue, trumpeted from the highest towers of both the Liberal Party, and that of the opposition, the Conservatives.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s attack ads warned parents of Canadian youth of the young politician with the family pedigree and the nice hair who was coming for their children, and wouldn’t rest until they were sunk so far in a sofa basement, eyes glazed, fingers coated with orange Cheesie dust, that they couldn’t even remember where they parked their fixed-gear bike.

Scary stuff. Only, the majority of Canadians disagreed, classifying pot as mostly harmless, rather than “infinitely worse than tobacco,” as Harper called it.

We know the outcome: Trudeau’s Liberal government swept into power in October, winning on a platform of optimism and reform promises, the legalization of cannabis among them. It seemed like a win for Canadians. We rejoiced and enjoyed resurfaced pictures of our photogenic Prime Minister. There was a lightness about the country that hadn’t been felt in some time—it was intoxicating, almost.

But could it all have been just a contact high?

As of yet, the cannabis laws haven’t budged since Trudeau was sworn in on November 4th—other, more pressing campaign promises, like resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees on Canadian soil before the end of 2015, have taken priority—but that’s not to say that his win hasn’t sparked a fire over the proverbial bowl. Or stopped Canadians from inhaling deeply. Publicly traded companies in the cannabis sector saw a growth in stocks between seven and 40 per cent the day after elections, a flurry of activity likely caused by the news.

“We’re at minimum two years away from recreational marijuana being legalized,” says Khurram Malik, an analyst at Toronto’s Jacob Securities, an investments bank that watches the cannabis sector. “You’re going to hear a lot of noise in the interim on what that’s going to look like, but it’s not happening tomorrow.”

But a lot can happen in two years; just ask the state of Colorado, which has been legally distributing recreational pot to its citizens for two years now. The majority of Coloradan voters continue to support the decision, according to a Quinnipiac University survey, believing it to be of benefit to the state. They’re not wrong, at least financially. Colorado garnered $70M US in weed tax revenue last year, even more than was initially projected.

In Canada, the financial waves are already starting to crest. On Canada’s west coast (in Vancouver and Victoria, specifically), the last few years have seen an explosion in the number of dispensaries, from just 14 in 2013 to over 100 in Vancouver today, thanks to the lax city and provincial laws.

There’s green to be made off of this green stuff. According to Malik, should the marijuana companies that are currently seeing large scale growth in the medical sector successfully transition business early enough into in the recreational sector, they could stand to make massive profits. At present, we can only speculate what that kind of customer-facing system would look like.

“It’s probably going to happen the same way we distribute liquor around the country, with every province doing its own thing to some degree,” predicts Malik. “So, if you’re in Ontario, you can probably expect an LCBO equivalent set up in order to buy your weed.”

The Cannabis Control Board of Ontario: can you imagine the lines on April 19th? (Hopefully they sell snacks.)

On the topic of snacks, edibles of the weed variety are fast approaching the consumer market, and could change the game big time for those who use cannabis for medicinal reasons. Because for doctors, it seems, eating pot is an easier pill to swallow (or prescribe, at least), than the plants themselves or baggies of bud.

“To date all you can buy is the dry flower, which has a certain social stigma attached to it from a consumer standpoint and a doctor standpoint,” explains Malik. “Why would a doctor comfortably prescribe a dry bud that he can’t hydrate or dose properly? When you get it in edible form, it changes the equation considerably.”

And once the doctors are on board, the big name insurers will follow. But there are hurdles.

“The problem is that almost everything insurance companies cover in their plans has a Drug Identification Number (DIN),” explain Malik, “and we’re not quite there with marijuana. We need to get some more formal drug studies done before regulators will assign a DIN.”

DIN or not, Trudeau’s Liberal government will surely make Canada’s already budding weed business bloom even further. And soon. For medical marijuana permit holders (and eventually for the midnight toker), this means better, cheaper weed more easily attained. And if Colorado can serve as a case study, even non-users stand to benefit from the secondhand smoke, with the promise of financial gain in the form of tax revenue on the horizon.

Wherever you stand on the issue, Canada’s future certainly looks more pot friendly. But for now, we play the waiting game. If only we had something to help us pass the time…