Canada: Some black market pot dealers drumming up business outside legal cannabis stores

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Some black market marijuana dealers have been engaged in a literal turf war with their legal competitors.

In recent days, at least one brazen illegal seller has been offering samples of his wares and a dial-a-dope service outside stores that sell the bud under government licence.

The dealer, dubbing himself Medi Man, has been handing out samples of cannabis bud in a tiny baggie stapled to a business card offering various grades of pot and its derivatives, including edibles, to store customers.

Prices listed for bud are as low as $100 an ounce — a third or a quarter the price of its legal counterpart.

“Money back guaranteed — minimum order $100 … delivery 7 days a week 9 AM – 9 PM,” reads the card.

A man taking orders on one of three phone numbers listed on the card said sales have been brisk.

“Business is great, especially at this time of year,” said the man.

“Everybody’s off work and everybody wants something to relax with.”

The higher price of legal pot, he said, has been an advantage for their operation.

A Medi Man dealer was seen recently outside the Four20 Premium Market at Sage Hill canvassing the store’s customers.

Store owner Jeff Mooij said he’s aware of illegal competitors’ presence, adding they’ve been persistent.

“There’s a bunch of dealers and they’re not stupid — they get (to customers) coming in and going out,” he said, adding he’s called police several times.

“By the time police get there, they’re long gone.”

The Calgary Police Service wasn’t able to comment on the issue on Friday.

Mooij said such black marketers might be doing good business now but as legal retailers find more solid ground with a more stable supply next year, that will change.

“They’re going to be busy for a while but a robust legal market will kill the black market and we’re nowhere close to having a robust market yet,” he said.

The attraction of a lower price, he said, is limited and will fade in favour of quality, safety and predictability.

“Price is only one part of the whole equation,” said Mooij.

Premium Four20 president Jeff Mooij lets out a cheer in front of his cannabis store in Calgary on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

But unlike licensed retailers, illegal online and street dealers also offer cannabis derivatives like edibles, shatter and even highly refined hashish known as honey oil.

On Thursday, Health Canada released proposals on how and what kind of legalized edibles will be sold as of Oct. 17, 2019.

The draft regulations, subject to public feedback until Feb. 20, suggests edibles be sold in plain packaging, not include sugar or sweeteners and allow for cannabis-infused beverages without alcohol.

Some in the legal retail industry say banning sugar gives black market edibles a sweet advantage while others, like Mooij, contend the derivatives could have been legally marketed by now.

“For the amount of effort (Health Canada) used to come up with those guidelines, it could have been done last year,” he said.

Among the main reasons given for Ottawa’s legalizing cannabis was to undermine the black market and keep it out of the hands of youth.

While recreational use and some sale of cannabis is now legal, many penalties governing the drug have been toughened by Ottawa.

Selling cannabis without a licence can bring a maximum 14 years in prison or a $5,000 fine.

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