Alright, first let’s address the obvious here. Clearly, as someone who writes for Just Cannabis, I have a default bias towards non-government run stores like JC. However, I write this as someone who has used cannabis for a long time. I care deeply about the quality available and how the government actually enacts legalization. I believe I would have these same feelings regardless. In fact, I feel like the opportunities that I’ve had to see how both sides operate means I can speak somewhat confidently on the matter. If you’ve read any of our previous blogs on the matter than you know how I feel about government weed and how they’ve gone up on the process.
It is no secret; legalization has not been smooth sailing so far. When you type in Canada and cannabis in google the top three news stories are all reporting on various problems in the industry. It has been this way since before legalization began. When the Liberal government announced the legalization of recreational cannabis, nobody could have anticipated the issues to come. Even before it was legalized long-time industry veterans were being pushed out by restrictive rules, leaving the legal cannabis market open to monopolies. As expected, the landscape is now dominated by massive corporations having bought out their smaller competitors, all in the spirit of not only being one of the few remaining but also the biggest names in the industry.
And the result?
Well, the proof is in the pudding. Or in this case the dry and uncured weed/ abysmal sales figures. Let’s take a closer look and see what exactly is going on with government-approved cannabis.
If you’ve ever purchased government weed than you probably know what I’m talking about. The questionable bud being offered by government-run stores was immediately on everyone’s radar, not only in Canada but in the cannabis community around the world. A forum for sharing pictures of legal cannabis on the popular site Reddit shows disappointed customers time and time again. Often even what could be considered the more positive reviews have at least one complaint about either the poor trimming, dryness or it being underweight.
When a good review pops up, the user and commenters seem surprised like this is an anomaly, rather than the way it should be when multimillion-dollar government-backed companies invest in growing cannabis.
I have not just read about these disappointing experiences, I’ve made sure to have some myself. I won’t name any companies as the problem is in the bigger picture. It’s the system that allows companies like this to thrive with no accountability for quality. When cannabis was first legalized I ordered a half-ounce of God Bud online from the official BC Cannabis Website. I was so excited waiting for it to arrive. Unfortunately, I was met with some of the most underwhelming buds I’d ever seen. Barely any smell, they looked incredibly average and it was dry. The container was also full of large stems that easily could have been removed before sending it out.
I have found the same qualities, or lack thereof, in all of the government-approved cannabis I’ve seen, with the exception of a few quality companies. Before writing this blog I thought that it would only be fair for me to check out a store again. To see how, if anything, had changed. The store looked like one of those high-end clothing stores with only 8 items of clothes in it. When I managed to actually find the cannabis it was all contained in small plastic containers. There were ‘smell holes’ for you to get a whiff of the dried out flower but they all had weird smears over the holes, presumably from previous customers. I did my best to smell from a distance with little success.
I bought spent 15 minutes pacing like a mad man looking over all of the unimpressive options.
This was it?! Over a year past legalization and cannabis still looks like the weed we bought in high school? It’s not like good weed doesn’t exist. It’s literally all over the country, just curiously not in government-owned stores.
The very friendly customer service guy, who unfortunately did not know all that much about indicas, recommended a few strains that were supposed to have been recently packaged and very good quality. I bought a pre-roll of Cowboy Kush and a gram of what was supposed to be L.A. Confidential. When I opened them outside my heart sank. The first thing I saw was a giant stem. It was attached to a very fresh bud that had never seen a day of curing in its life. That is unless you count it sitting in a supposedly, but not really airtight plastic container for three months.
I lit the pre-roll and for the first time in over a decade, I put the joint out halfway. Not because I was so high, but because I could not handle that taste any longer. It was like the time someone told me in grade 10 that if you smoked a lot of Earl Grey tea you could get high and I smoked bag after bag with no effect. I was not a bright teenager.
I gave the rest of the pre-roll to my partner who usually does not use cannabis because they are sensitive to THC. Before they smoked it I warned them that this was advertised as being at 19% THC. They barely felt anything and asked if that was really supposed to be the best, as the guy at the store promised us. I honestly wasn’t sure what to tell them. Is this the best?!
The issue of quality with government weed can be traced to many things. One major issue is the lack of curing taking place within the licensed distributors. Anybody who has ever grown weed knows that when the bud is snipped from the plant, it is far from ready. For many, curing is actually one of, if not the most important part of the growing process.
When the bud is snipped from a plant, it will still be heavy with water. It must be carefully dried, without getting it too warm or cold and risk growing mold. After that, it must be cured, usually in glass jars. For what can last up to months; the buds are kept in the jars in a cool, dark place. They have to be opened multiple times a day as they require fresh air to combat mold. It is during the process that the buds taste and smell are really determined.
A good cure can make your bud smell even better than you ever imagined. On the other hand, as I did this summer, buds that go into the jar smelling gassy and strong can come out smelling like yard trimmings and wet dog. That was a case of them not being burped enough.
It would appear that the curing process is a step often skipped by licensed producers in order to get their product out quicker. I believe this is one of the biggest reasons that government weed tastes so weird and so harsh on the throat.
Lack of Cannabis Specific Knowledge
Another issue is the lack of cannabis growing specialists within these companies. The majority of Canada’s more dedicated and skilled growers pre-legalization are still working outside of the legal sector. Whether due to heavy restriction barring from them from being licensed or grievances with the approach to legalization, many work as AMPCR (Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations) growers. This way they give their cannabis directly to medical patients, rather than involving the government.
Another issue that not enough people are talking about is the process of irradiation that a high percentage of government weed undergoes in order to meet Health Canada’s strict rules. Obviously getting cleaner and safer cannabis is a good thing and a positive side of regulation. However, Health Canada is acting as if this is not an organic material grown from dirt. Mold can ruin a crop but the presence of a minute percentage in a small portion of a grow is not grounds to have it all destroyed. We want healthier and cleaner cannabis. However, the reality is that just like produce bought from the store, there may be the occasional bit imperfection.
Obviously, nobody should be consuming mold, but instead of throwing out the entire stock of, say… tomatoes, you put that one aside, or you get your money back. Irradiation kills the taste and smell of cannabis and makes it much less pleasant to smoke. This misplaced concern would be better spent worrying about making cannabis that is not dry as sand which therefore leads to a great deal of coughing for the user, both recreational and medical alike.
Furthermore, we have seen time and time again that irradiation doesn’t necessarily mean no mold with government weed. There have already been recalls for mold on irradiated buds.
As we addressed during the curing discussion, the storage of cannabis plays a huge role in the end experience. As we also discussed, putting fresh buds in plastic containers and then putting them on shelves without introducing fresh air does not count as curing. It will actually make the bud taste worse.
We’ve also previously discussed the amount of waste produced by government weed packaging. For a long time, cannabis was sold in small plastic bags. It’s not a perfect answer to packaging but it helped minimize extra waste. Now packaging that follows the guidelines set in place by the government is creating loads more waste than seen before in cannabis. Even a gram of weed comes in a hard plastic container, in a cardboard box. This is on top of the bag and receipt. Many people are opposed to creating more waste than necessary so avoid LPs for that reason alone.
Not to mention, the packaging they have chosen, is not airtight and contributes to the dry cannabis that comes out of them.
So if the quality is so sub-standard, government weed must be really affordable, right?
No. No, it’s not.
It’s far from affordable, in fact. When cannabis was legalized, did they not anticipate that people already knew how much weed was worth? I completely understanding charging a couple of dollars more per gram for exotic or AAAA strains, but for the blanket standard to be set so high means you’re eliminating a huge percentage of your potential market.
Take this 3.5g container of Chocolope from Whistler Cannabis Co. You can find the same or similar strains on your common MOM (Mail Order Marijuana) website for around $30-$35 for the same weight. BC Cannabis Stores is selling the strain at the same weight for $62.99. That’s a markup of around $28-$30. WHY? What is it about this cannabis that makes them think they can and should charge so much. Keep in mind, this is the price before tax and shipping. After all that is added, I’d be looking at just under $80 for 3.5 grams.
One outcome from a monopoly means a lack of competition. Which is great for business, but horrible for the consumer. And we’re not dumb. I mean we may be high, but we can tell when we’re being taken advantage of. It’s pretty obvious in fact. That’s what makes this all the more frustrating as a consumer. The boldfaced arrogance of these companies to act like this is the standard for cannabis pricing.
If you’re wondering how these companies are managing to move the product if it’s at such a high price; they’re not. They are now sitting on a massive surplus of product, yet refusing to lower the price, as it may hurt their stock value.
Legalization 2.0 began at the end of last year and a lot of people within the industry hoped would mark a positive shift for investors. This has not been the case, as again, the rules put in place make it impossible to compete with non-government prices and products.
These poor figures have current and potential future investors concerned. In the lead up to legalization people could not help but see the dollar signs when anticipating the potential sales. They’d point to states like Colorado, who as a result of legalizing cannabis have had a massive surplus to redistribute back into the communities. However, Trudeau’s approach of keeping children safe, rather than making money on an economically viable product made reaching a similar tax revenue impossible.
As Sean Williams explains, there are some economic gymnastics going on to keep investors happy. By overvaluing their stock they can trick investors into believing they have a higher potential for sales than they do in reality.
These kinds of practices and shady goings-on you might expect from some dealers in the prohibition days, but this does not seem like the behavior of the leading names in an industry. As a result, some of the biggest companies in cannabis are facing numerous class action lawsuits based out of the US for misleading investors.
I’ve used the term government weed a lot in this blog. You might be wondering how much of a role the government is actually playing in the industry. One early indication of the government’s not only compliance but at times, pro-active relationships with licensed producers occurred in 2014. At that time a huge amount of cannabis was discovered at an airport on its way to Tweed, one of the largest licensed producers in the world which now goes by the name Canopy Growth Corp. The RCMP, as they had done with countless other busts, was expected to make an announcement about the seizure. Instead, nothing came. Tweed released their own statement which as Douglas Quan for the National Post explains, RCMP members perceived to be “brutally misleading”. No official announcement followed.
And why? It turns out it was because the RCMP did not want to hurt the stock price of Tweed. They also didn’t want to put Health Canada to shame. So instead, the police just let the misinformation go out into the world as unopposed truth. Would they give the same consideration to a local craft grower who works for medical patients? I think it’s unlikely. The article explains that the shipment was only supposed to contain living plants and seeds, yet they found dried packaged buds ready for distribution.
The blurring of lines between politicians, police, and cannabis only continued from there.
Former Naysayers Now Key Players
There were many vocal anti-cannabis figures pre-legalization across the country. They spoke about its dangers and the problems that stem from its use. However, when the opportunity to turn a profit arose, many of these previously anti-cannabis voices joined or started licensed cannabis companies. One of the clearest examples is ex-Toronto Police Chief and current executive chairman of Aleafia; Julian Fantino. Fantino, who faced his own corruption allegations while working for the police was a very vocal anti-cannabis voice pre-legalization. He claims he changed his mind on cannabis after meeting veterans that use it for PTSD, however one must also wonder if the potential money to be made played any role at all.
People were using cannabis for PTSD long before legalization. It seems incredibly convenient that his change of heart timed up with the changing of laws. He opened Aleafia with RCMP deputy commissioner Raf Souccar. Souccar and Fantino are not the only ex-police who are now working in cannabis. Members of the RCMP that were willing to enforce cannabis laws are now some of those profiting the most from it.
Unjust Laws Make For Unjust Nations
How is this acceptable? Activists and industry pioneers fought for years for the right to do what Fantino and his company are doing now. They did so all while being targeted by organizations like the RCMP and Toronto PD. Now those same activists are barred from participating in the industry either because of some blemish on their criminal record (despite the fact that the mark on the record was for the same plant that is now legalized) or by the endless red tape put in place so that only companies with multi-million-dollar backers and the support of local and federal government can succeed.
There is a reason that so many of the people most passionate about cannabis have chosen not to work in the legal field. It is not by mistake. We’ve actively chosen to avoid an industry so rife with bad practices resulting in a bad product. I would truly love it if government weed was affordable and of even decent quality.
But there is nothing in these companies’ behavior that should lead us to believe anything will change.
At the end of the day, you should smoke what is right for you. If it being government approved is the most important factor, then go for it. That said, if you’re after quality, fair prices and less ethically questionable business practices, there is a whole world of mail-order cannabis out there.
If the government and the LPs will not listen to us directly then maybe they will take notice when sales drop even further. Many are trying to keep a brave face. Whether its to fool investors or themselves is unclear. Likely a bit of both. However, the truth is their money printing cannabis-utopia is far from a reality. They thought they could cut corners at the expense of the consumers. Maybe they thought we wouldn’t notice.
Legalization has been a real mess for many licensed producers. Nevertheless, these companies continue to run a monopoly on the industry. All made possible with the help of the government.
It’s up to us, the consumer, to make our voices and opinions known. Vote with your wallet. Support stores and suppliers who offer a good product at a fair price that you feel deserve it. LP’s would have us believe we owe them our business, but the truth is they are the ones that owe us a business worth patronizing.