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Trial and error: First anniversary of legalized cannabis marked by need for policy improvement

By in Culture

Oct. 17 marks one year since Canada first legalized the recreational adult use of cannabis. 

To understand how the new laws impact the people most invested in this issue, the Sheaf interviewed a cannabis store manager, a local drug dealer and an expert on Saskatchewan cannabis policy.

Carter Janzen is the manager at the Living Skies Cannabis located in downtown Saskatoon, and he has been working at the licensed retailer since legalization. He believes that legalization felt “rushed as a whole” when recalling the supply shortages and expensive price of flowers in the first months after opening.

One of the biggest changes Janzen has seen is his customers’ growing acceptance of paying more money, including taxes, while shopping at a licensed store.

“People are understanding that it’s not on the retailers, but it’s on the licensed producers and government to fix this stuff,” Janzen said. 

Janzen believes the biggest improvement to policy was Saskatoon’s city council vote to reduce the cannabis store licensing fee from $10,000 to $85 last summer. But he says what really needs to be fixed is packaging regulations that create bulky containers and plastic waste.

“I think it could be a very simple improvement of clear vacuum-sealed bags and even consider biodegradable packaging to stop all this waste from coming out,” Janzen said.

Saskatchewan cannabis policy expert Jerome Konecsni is also critical of the pace in which the legalization was implemented. He says that although the government planned clear objectives in its policy, it has few ways of measuring whether these goals have been successfully attained.

“One could argue ‘What was the rush?’ and ‘Why not decriminalize it first?’ to reduce the cost of enforcement,” Konecsni said. “And if you used that money to ask those questions beforehand, you wouldn’t have implemented [the licensing fee] in the first place.”

Konecsni says that improving the appeal of legal cannabis stores depends on continuing to make legal cannabis more competitive through price reduction.

“If you have a regular illegal supplier and you were happier with the price of their products and they were consistent, you’re relatively comfortable,“ said Konecsni. “It’s the relationship where you get a comfort in terms of quality and safety, so that’s where customer loyalty is a barrier.”

Local Saskatoon black market drug dealer who chose the alias of Ghost for this story, says prices for illegal cannabis dropped this past year from $180 an ounce to nearly $100, largely from a mutual consensus among his customers.

“Like people younger than me and guys older than me, they all seem to realize that that’s the price that they should be paying for it,” Ghost said.

Ghost says individuals are drawn to illegal dealers because of their accessibility after licensed store hours, and the biggest change this year has been dealers moving to social media platforms like Snapchat to sell their products.

More policy and regulation challenges are sure to come as cannabis edibles become legal on Oct. 17 even though they won’t be hitting store shelves until mid-December.

Although Janzen will be selling the new products, he believes that the new policies are only going to exacerbate the plastic waste issue.

“They made this regulation that you can only have 10 milligrams of THC per package,” Janzen said. “Say if you’re buying a gummy and you want five of them, you have to buy five separate packages.”

Konecsni also wonders if strict packaging regulations will be enough to not entice children rather than the government doing more to educate the public.

“Investing in education and innovation research with a certain portion of the revenue generated should be devoted to [raise awareness] … to help improve the safety, the regulation and our understanding of [legal cannabis],” Konecsni said.

“You haven’t heard anybody in the election campaign talk about investing in research and public education,” he added. 

Ghost feels impartial to the legalization of edibles because “they don’t affect him” and he has never sold those products.

Noah Callaghan/ Staff Writer

Shawna Langer/ Graphics Editor

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