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There, in a relaxed space reminiscent of the coffee chain, jovial “budtenders” sell coconut chocolate bars infused with marijuana and customers smoke powerful pot concentrates at a sleek dab bar.
When Canada legalized recreational marijuana, on Oct. 17, one of the central aims was to shut down the thousands of illegal dispensaries and black-market growers dotting the country. But taming an illegal trade estimated at 5.3 billion Canadian dollars ($4 billion) is proving to be daunting.
Many of the products sold at Weeds, Glass and Gifts are banned under the new law, which restricts licensed retailers to selling fresh or dried cannabis, seeds, plants and oil. Yet the retailer’s owner, Don Briere, an ebullient 67-year-old and self-styled pot crusader, has no intention of shutting down his four Vancouver stores or changing his product lineup.
He even has plans for expansion by launching a new line of outlawed canine marijuana treats, which purport to reduce pet anxiety.
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said Briere, who in 2001 was sentenced to four years in prison for being one of British Columbia’s most prolific pot producers.
The Canadian government faces many challenges in stamping out the illegal marijuana industry. For one, there are too many black market shops like Briere’s for the government to keep track of.
And as sluggish provincial bureaucracies struggle to manage a new regulatory system, licenses to operate legally are hard to come by, giving illegal sellers added impetus to defy the law.
At the same time, the police and the public have little appetite for a national crackdown.
“The government taking over the cannabis trade is like asking a farmer to build airplanes,” Briere added.
Canadian policy-makers say legalization is a giant national undertaking that will take years to be enforced. Mike Farnworth, British Columbia’s minister of public safety, argued that civic pressure and market forces would help gradually diminish the illegal trade.
“It’s a very Canadian way of doing things,” he said. “It won’t happen overnight.” There will, he added, be no mass raids, “guns and head-bashing.”
Nevertheless, he noted, newly created “community safety units” in British Columbia, staffed by 44 unarmed inspectors, have been given the power to raid dispensaries without a search warrant, seize illegal products and shut them down.
In the week since legalization took effect, there are signs of a chill, if a modest one.
In Toronto, police raided five illegal pot retailers, two days after the law went into effect. Dozens of others in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa have voluntarily closed their doors to avoid being shut out of the legal market.
Even Briere, who once owned 36 shops across Canada, is applying for government licenses for his stores, and has shuttered nine shops including in Ottawa, Alberta and Saskatchewan. He is steering those customers to his illegal online shop instead.
Yet hundreds of black-market-pot outlets remain defiantly open, abetted by provincial governments slow to implement the new law.
On Oct. 17, only one legal government pot retailer opened in British Columbia, in the city of Kamloops, nearly a four-hour drive from Vancouver. That assured that Vancouver’s illicit trade would continue to thrive.
And that day, none of the roughly 100 illegal pot dispensaries in the city had the provincial licenses they needed to operate legally, even those that had applied for one.