Canada cannabis

World’s largest legal marijuana market opens four months after vote

THE BONG, ER, GONG, sounded early Wednesday morning for the nationwide sale of marijuana in Canada, only the second country in the world to legalize the drug and the first major world economy to allow adult use and sales.

The move from vote to sale was just four months, a relatively lightning-fast period that many in Massachusetts look at and say, “Huh?” Nearly two years after voters approved recreational marijuana in the Bay State, there still hasn’t been a single joint sold for non-medical use while our neighbors to the north get to inhale to their hearts’ content.

While it’s fair to ask “how come,” the answer is more complex than it seems behind the smoke. First and foremost, it is now legal to buy, sell, and smoke everywhere in Canada, not just in certain provinces. That makes sales, cultivation, and transportation much simpler and less restrictive than having a hodgepodge of regulations from state to state with prohibition in between the borders. In addition, there are no banking obstacles like there are in the United States because of federal laws here, making investing and transactions a whole lot more uniform.

But Canada also is going into this new era with its own patchwork of laws. The age to legally buy and use marijuana varies by province, some setting it at 18, others at 19, and the new government has vowed to make it a uniform age of 21. There are also restrictions on how marijuana can be sold and used. Right now, edibles are not allowed and stores can only sell leaf, buds, and oils for smoking.

There’s also the jumble of who is selling the product, with some provincial governments stepping into the retail business. About half the country’s 10 provinces will have privately owned and operated retail stores while the government will be the dealer in the remainder. Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, will not have any stores until next April, forcing people there to order it online from a government-operated site. In the vast northwest province of British Columbia, there will be just one privately run store, making online sales the only alternative. Or a quick trip to Washington or Alaska.

Like Massachusetts and most other states south of the northern border, social consumption sites (aka, pot bars) will not be permitted just yet and, like tobacco smoke, the public places to imbibe will be limited. Hotels and apartment landlords across the country are forbidding the use of marijuana, making it tough for renters, homeless, and visitors to indulge.

There is also a concern about supply, the same problem that cropped up in Nevada and California following a quick rollout and one that some observers see as a potential glitch once retail sales are allowed here in Massachusetts. Like other places that legalized adult use, Canada has had a thriving medical marijuana business for years, legalizing it in 2001. Some of that product will flow to the legal market but prohibiting edibles for recreational use for now is one way the government has ensured a steady inventory for medical patients.

The biggest spur for Canadian lawmakers to legalize cannabis was to eradicate the black market and they did it by minimizing the taxes. A gram is expected to sell for about $5.25 (roughly $4 in American currency) and the 2.3 percent tax for regulatory control is baked in with provinces and local governments allowed to levy excise and sales tax. That price is still expected to be lower than illicit pot, which goes about $10 a gram, and incentivize police to crack down to keep the tax revenues flowing.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

But above all else, Canada has created a new business and a new economy with an expected $5 billion adult use market. Investors are throwing money at cannabis companies and positioning the country’s producers to be at the forefront when this generation’s prohibition ends.

“It’s like Seagram’s back when Prohibition was in place and just about to end,” Deborah Weinstein, a lawyer in Ottawa who handled one marijuana company’s move [stock symbol WEED on the Toronto Stock Exchange], told the New York Times. “But it’s more than that. This has never been an industry.”