Impact of cannabis legalization on illegal market still unclear

As cannabis legalization approaches, it’s unclear what it will mean for people who currently sell marijuana illegally.

Most of the focus has been on the retailers chosen to sell marijuana in the province, but legalization will also have a large impact on people working in the black market.

Four years ago, David Poleski was working on the streets to sell drugs.

“It just started with trying drugs and then realizing how expensive they were,” Poleski told CTV News. “Of course, you are trying them with people, so it makes sense to buy some and supply it to the people that you’re hanging out with. Then, the word spreads, it doesn’t take long. It’s a pretty easy market to get into.”

According to Poloski, drug deals in Regina happen anywhere — and sometimes, the more public the place, the better.

“If it’s a super public place, you put it in a fast food bag or something so that it’s not super obvious,” he said. “But, most of it’s pretty much right out in the open.”

Soon, people wanting to smoke pot in Canada won’t have to text a drug dealer. Instead, they’ll be able to go into a retail store to make their purchase.

Allen Kilback was randomly selected by the provincial government to buy a cannabis license — and he knows one of his largest competitors will be people selling the drug illegally.

“It’s a completely different market, and I think the experience we’ll offer will speak to the people who want to buy legalized cannabis,” Kilback said.

He admits after receiving his cannabis licence approval, he still feels some people treat him like a drug dealer.

“For me to phone my mother and tell her what was going on, I tried to start with cannabis, then I went to marijuana,” Kilback explained. “The she said, ‘Well, it’s drugs.’ So, I think that was about it. But, I think there are other people out there who are misinformed about this industry.”

Economics professor Jason Childs at the University of Regina has been researching how a new legal market may change the illegal market for marijuana. He thinks the illegal market will only be impacted if legalization is done right.

“In order to displace the illicit market, you’ve got to hit three marks,” Childs said. “You’ve got to hit price, you’ve got to hit availability and you’ve got to hit variety. Missing on any one of those, or more than one of those things, makes it virtually impossible to eliminate the illicit market.”

Regina police say that while the decision to legalize cannabis was made by the federal government, a lot of work is being done on the provincial and municipal level. Police say training techniques and procedures may need to change once it is legalized.

Poleski said he doesn’t think the illegal marijuana market won’t going anywhere.

“I think for the novelty of it, a lot of people might be inclined to at least go a few times, but the convenience of a dealer isn’t going to be beat,” he said.

Based on a report by CTV Regina‘s Cally Stephanow