Weed has been baked into Canadian, or at least BC, culture for as long as I can remember; despite being a stoner, that’s a long time. Cannabis became legal here just over three years ago, and still, there is a large segment of the population fuelling the illegal (black, grey, whatever color you want to ascribe to it) market. There are many reasons for this, which I will cover, but ultimately it comes down to the quality of the product. Dry, over-priced, and small are not words I associate with quality cannabis, but they are regularly used to describe the product available in the legal market. The government likes to use scare tactics around the safety of illegal cannabis to entice stubborn users to contribute their hard-earned cash to the legal market, and ultimately, the government’s tax fund. The only way to convince anyone is by resolving the very real issues with the quality, pricing, and availability of legal weed – legal producers, have a long way to go on that front.
You don’t need to consume either of these to know that the first image looks inviting; a large bud, covered in crystal that any stoner would be happy to consume. The second one contains small, shriveled buds, and almost as much stem as it does smokable flower. This particular batch includes not one, but two Boveda packs, typically indicative of low moisture content. Producers like to use humidity control packs such as these to prevent old, dry weed from turning to dust. Why this happens isn’t all that relevant, the simple fact is, black or grey market weed is almost always of a higher quality. The buds are larger, dried to a higher moisture percentage, and don’t smell like hay, a side effect of the quick-drying methods commonly used when mass producing cannabis. In other words, when profit weighs much higher than the quality of the final product.
While this is less of an issue now, when the government first legalized cannabis, they didn’t seem to have a plan in place to issue retail licenses for physical stores. The rollout was slow and painful, making it much more difficult to shut down the grey-market dispensaries. It wasn’t until nearly three months after legalization that Vancouver saw its first legal store open. Even still, many illegal dispensaries have moved online. While most of them use the same delivery methods that each province’s legal online stores are using, equal availability isn’t much of an incentive when the quality of the product and the overall value are much higher when buying from these illicit sources.
Before legalization, it was typical for an ounce of weed to cost anywhere from $200 - $280. Post-legalization, black market distributors dumped their prices to better compete with the legal market. The prices in the legal market were nearly on par with the legacy market, but of course, the quality was not. It’s common to find quality ounces in the illegal market at under $150. When weed was first legalized, ounces had yet to reach the legal market, but when they did, the pricing was actually on par with illegal sources. The catch is that the quality is nowhere near what the black market was and is still offering. One can find legal ounces for as little as $100, but because of the way many licensed producers have chosen to market their ounce packages, it’s impossible to know what strain you are getting; packages are labeled as either Indica, Sativa, or Hybrid. You may be wondering how this impacts the value of the product. Well, if you’ve ever had a strain that caused paranoia, headaches, or other unpleasant side effects, you’ll know that you’d be best to avoid that strain in the future. The best you can do without knowing which strain the LP decided to use for a particular “Value Pack” batch is to check which strains the producer grows and either ensure the problem strain isn’t on that list or hope they didn’t choose it for this particular batch. There are no returns on cannabis products in Canada. If you end up stuck with a strain that isn’t compatible with you, the best you can do is donate it to a friend. You aren’t likely to get a street dealer or grey market seller to offer a refund either, but at least you know upfront which strains you are getting in a $100 ounce.
The legal market isn’t going anywhere any time soon, but if we have to live with it, we can only hope that they’ll take a page from the black market’s books and put their focus on plants over profit.