City’s cannabis dispensaries win with rope-a-dope business plan

Dear Cannabis Dispensaries:

You have won.

You came to Vancouver out of the blue, set up shop without a licence, acquired a steady supply of illicit product from criminal elements, found sketchy professionals to prescribe it for pretty well anything and served it to just about anyone who stepped into the building. Yes, young people were and are among them.

You knew the mayor wouldn’t ask the police to shutter your facilities, so you balked and howled when the city tried to create even the most feeble bylaws that still permitted you to profit profligately.

You thumbed your nose at fines and sanctions. No one – city inspector, local police, whoever – closed your doors.

You risked the quite credible case for legalization with your flouting. Indeed, more of you sprouted – many, many more than were licensed or fined.

We have to congratulate ourselves, too, for doing our best to support you.

Our taxes in the city have made rent for local business quite difficult for all but low-cost, high-margin outfits like yours to survive. City hall worries more about empty homes than about devoid businesses, though.

Our bylaws have been tough on paper, but that’s it – mere paper, no tiger. We seemed to appreciate that you remained patient and didn’t give up on your dreams when we created the slightest of hurdles and didn’t punish you for skipping them.

Our mayor, as the chief of the police board, had an opportunity to shutter any illegal joint for joints, as his counterparts did to the greatest extent in Toronto and Montreal.

But it’s clear he had a longer-range vision than worrying about the minors who might be served, the phony prescriptions that might be provided for the myriad faux ailments that seemed to call for this particular medicine or the source of the drug itself from what most of us mistakenly thought was a criminal element.

As it turns out, the mayor has provincial support in that latter matter: our new solicitor general believes there is no organized crime in the cannabis business. He calls it an early learning in his job.

Like you, we are all learning things, like how the prime minister now wants to tax weed. Surprise all around last week when he announced this to the premiers. My, my, hard to believe Ottawa would legalize it and then not leave the spoils to others.

With the grown-ups trying to subsume the grow-ops, we are starting to see how the Bong Show will be the Gong Show.

Supply will not meet demand. Taxes might not offset new public costs if governments wish to be competitive. A black market will flourish, only now with far fewer legal concerns. Impairment cannot be policed.

Which is why we are writing you, dear owner-operator, to congratulate your endurance, offer our surrender in principle and promise that your reward is pending if you hang on just a little longer. We might turn to you now, in our moment of need, in our fight to bring cannabis to market.

We have you under consideration as the city’s dealers. You know where to get the stuff and how to market and price it. We will just pronounce you legal and pretend those sketchy sources of your supply did not ever meet you in the alley or down the highway. Indeed, lead us into this temptation and deliver us from evil.

Quite the conversion, but no one thought this hasty concoction was anything other than a bad trip waiting to happen.

Ottawa seems willing to push through what many are realizing is a reckless Day 1 plan for O Cannabis Day, July 1, 2018. With more time would come more stability in the mammoth undertaking.

But no: an election looms, after all, and the crucial-to-retain millennial vote that was stiffed when electoral reform was killed will be spliffed when cannabis is legalized.

It might be generous to consider your tactics as a strategy, but it appears to be outwitting the big brains in government.

If all goes accordingly, soon you will be the pros, not the cons.

Kirk LaPointe is editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver Media Group and vice-president of Glacier Media.

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