There is plenty of evidence to suggest illegal weed sales continue in Calgary, despite the Oct. 17 legalization of cannabis in Canada.
Through discussions with multiple sources, the Calgary Journal confirmed there are many factors driving demand, including lack of legal supply, underage sales, pricing and loyal buyers who wish to continue purchasing from their dealers.
The Calgary Journal contacted Calgary Police Services, but they did not respond to requests for an interview at the time of publication.
Edibles big part of illegal trade
A Calgary dealer, who will go by the pseudonym Quincy, agreed to speak to the Calgary Journal on the condition of anonymity because of his concern about getting charged by police.
He said demand is high from people who are used to a specific product being sold at a specific price.
“I’d say that having edibles on the market is probably the best thing you can be doing to support people right now because there is no edibles in the government stores … who knows what the pricing is going to be.”
A 2018 Statistics Canada study supports the idea that Canadians are not ready to give up illegal weed. The study suggested of the 5.4 million Canadians interested in buying cannabis, a quarter of them planned on purchasing illegally in the final quarter of 2018.
Ashley Newman, the CEO of the Calgary dispensary Queen of Bud, explained that she expected the demand for recreational cannabis to continue. In early November, she said keeping up with stocking was already a big issue.
“They are out every single week. I haven’t had a delivery now for two weeks.”
The same 2018 Statistics Canada study also indicated that one-quarter of Canadians have tried cannabis before the age of 18, with a related 2012 study stating 44.8 per cent of Canadians aged 15 to 24 have used cannabis in their lifetime.
Weed easy to find for underage consumer
Outside a local Calgary restaurant, a busser finishes her shift. The Calgary Journal is protecting her identity as she is a minor in Grade 11.
The busser first tried cannabis in Grade 9 and initially found the experience difficult.
“That stuff messed me up ... and then I didn’t do it again for about half a year.”
She explained that since then, she has continued using cannabis rather frequently and has been supplied by people at her school.
Newman said everyone at her business uses stringent methods to check for identification to ensure no customer is under 18.
Selling cannabis to minors can result in up to 14 years in jail according to Canadian law.
Price differences are problematic
Newman said business is swift, but she says higher government pricing makes it hard for her to compete with street dealers.
“If they [government] want to compete with the black market then they are going to have to adjust the pricing.”
The pricing in dispensaries varies from province to province, Stats Canada shows Alberta to be the third most expensive province selling at 7.62 dollars per gram, higher than the National average which is 7.43 dollars.
Quincy confirmed he is able to sell for less, by the quarter, half, eighths, or ounce, with a quarter bag (7 grams) ranging from 50 to 60 dollars in price, depending on the quality of the product.
Loyalty drives illegal sales
Quincy confirmed that sometimes the reason to buy illegally has to do with more than just the price, but also the connection he’s built with buyers.
“To have the people’s trust 100 per cent is the main goal, and to establish that it’s going to take a lot of time, and in the meantime, the customers are going to be putting their trust in the product that has been supplied to them for the last 10 years.”
Quincy later compared himself to a hairstylist, saying it is a trust that has been built over many years and is hard to break.
Newman, meanwhile, is working hard to establish a relationship with her new customers, many whom are already returning for repeat business.
She offers them donuts and coffee, adding, “We really care about what they are looking for in the products. We try and offer them the best products, just be nice, and chat with them, make them feel special… which maybe their drug dealer does, but not in the same way that we do.”
Editor's note: This story, originally published on Nov. 28, 2018, has been updated to include a radio story on Dec. 11, 2018.
- By Sofia Gruchalla-Wesierski