Last month, Canada took the monumental step of legalizing recreational cannabis nationwide. It is only the second country and first major economy to do so.
TL;DR Cannabis legalization has failed to deliver on its core promises. Other complications have marred the process, as well. These problems could threaten legalization ahead of the federal election next year.
Legalization will have sweeping consequences. Canadians arrested for possession and low-level marijuana-related offenses will be released; the government will now be able to tax the popular drug; and the whole country is poised to benefit from weed tourism.
But the process of legalization has also been marred with controversy and complications.
After just a few days, liscensed dispensaries across the country began to empty their shelves. Government-run retailers, especially, were not prepared to meet the massive demand for legal product.
In Quebec, the société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC), which has a monopoly on cannabis sales, has had to close its stores three days per week in order to manage its dwindling supply. Right now, there's no telling when its producers will be able to provide another viable crop.
On the SQDC website, only three products remain in stock.
In Ontario, the online Ontario Cannabis Store is currently the only legal provider of marijuana. Private retailers are expected to open sometime next year. But in the meantime, customers have complained about horrendous customer service and confusing purchase processes.
The inadequacy of legal means for buying marijuana has pushed consumers back to the black market. According to a report from The Globe and Mail, over the weekend, illegal sellers have reported a massive increase in sales since October 17th.
This is an extremely troubling sign. Recall that the promise of eliminating the cannabis black market was the driving force behind the legalization of recreational use. The prosperity of the black market in just the first month after legalization undermines that claim.
In fact, even if the legal cannabis supply stabilizes, the austerity of the legal marijuana market, with its limited number of stores and clinical aesthetic, will likely fuel the black market indefinitely.
The legal ambiguity of cannabis regulations will also persist.
On October 17th, an entire new legal code came into immediate force. The lack of any real precedent for a regime of legal weed has created problems for police departments. Officers in Quebec, for example, have admitted that they aren't exactly sure how to enforce the province's strict rules about cannabis transportation. There is also uncertainty about how to catch an individual driving high.
For all of these reasons, marijuana legalization appears to be failing in Canada. The situation may very well improve in time. But the shortcomings of legalization put it in a precarious position ahead of the Canadian federal election next year.
Expect cannabis to become a core campaign issue next year. Opposition parties will likely call out the Trudeau government for the apparent mismanagement of the legalization process.
The Liberal government and Trudeau himself are popular enough right now to sail through reelection. If problems continue to plague marijuana legalization, that popularity may not last.