At a panel discussion in Vancouver, BC, last week, I listened to two New York Times reporters talk about all the ways cannabis legalization is supposedly failing.
It is failing in California, said San Francisco bureau chief Thomas Fuller, because the state still produces seven times more cannabis than it consumes. Local farmers are being regulated out of existence. Tax revenue isn’t yet “filling the coffers” as promised.
It is failing in Canada, said Dan Bilefsky, the paper’s Montreal-based correspondent, because the nearest licensed shop is a four-hour drive away, in Kamloops, and because illicit dab bars are still operating in Vancouver.
Listening to the two reporters frame the issue, you would have thought legalization has been an unmitigated disaster.
Fortunately, Hilary Black and Kelly Coulter were also sitting on the panel. Black is the founder of the BC Compassion Club Society—Vancouver’s pioneering medical dispensary—who now directs patient education and advocacy for industry giant Canopy Growth. Coulter is the longtime legalization activist who convinced Justin Trudeau to embrace regulated legalization.
Together, they reminded the Times reporters and the audience gathered in the Vancouver Public Library auditorium that legalization doesn’t happen with the flip of a switch. It took years of arduous work to pass the law. And it will take years of post-legalization effort to move illicit growers and consumers into the legal system.
Here at Leafly, we’ve amassed years of experience covering the rollout of legal farms and stores. And we’ve noticed that the cycles of legalization tend to repeat in each state and province.
The issues the Times reporters aired weren’t fiction. They exist. But they’re bumps in the road, not evidence of failure. We know this because we’ve seen the same issues rise and subside in previous legal states. Fuller and Bilefsky seem to have jumped into the issue during legalization week. Now they’re passing judgment based on some invented criteria of perfection. Remember, Canada started this just three weeks ago.
Here are just a few of the recurring issues that happen in nearly every newly legal cannabis market:
The upshot: Cannabis legalization doesn’t arrive perfectly formed like an iPhone in a beautiful box. It’s complex. It’s difficult. It takes time. Some laws and regulations require adjusting along the way. To write off legalization as a failed project is absurd, and does a disservice to the people, like Hilary Black and Kelly Coulter, who poured their lives into passing the law—and continue to work every day to create a more equitable, fair, and robust system.