It never ceases to amaze me how willing the Nova Scotia government is to cut down Nova Scotians in order to maintain a monopoly on something.
Growing up here, monopolies on alcohol and electricity were to be expected. Nova Scotia Power was who you bought your electricity from, and if you wanted to buy alcohol, you went to the NSLC. Never mind that the rest of the country has alcohol in grocery stores, or private businesses â€” here in the Maritimes, you buy it from the provincial government, small businesses and entrepreneurs be damned.
Back in 2015, when Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party announced one of their goals was the legalization of marijuana, there were two major reactions. Recreational smokers were over the moon, as they had long since held the opinion that the use of marijuana was less detrimental than the use of, say, alcohol, which was legal.
Business-minded folks, though, were more subdued. Though illegal dispensaries had already begun to exist at that point, those of us who saw a new market to expand into but didnâ€™t want to run afoul of the law were more content to wait until legalization went through â€” though part of that was keeping our fingers crossed that the Nova Scotian government would do the smart thing.
But this is Nova Scotia, and Nova Scotia wants all the money.
The first signs of trouble ahead came when the government announced it would be considering all the options ahead of legalization. The next sign was the announcement of a survey, ostensibly to gauge what people wanted, but which framed every question in such a way that an NSLC monopoly on sales was in the cards.
The only place in the questionnaire for dissension was a single comment box at the very end of the survey â€” a comment box that was conveniently ignored when the results of the survey were released. By the time legalization rolled around, a monopoly was a sure thing. The Nova Scotian government was telegraphing that fact hard, and those of us who had been planning to expand into that market post-legalization were stymied. But at the very least, the NSLC locations prevalent across the province would be serving their communities.
Then, of course, they announced a whole nine locations across the entire province. Then they announced they were expanding it to 12, on account of the majority of the province not having an NSLC dispensary anywhere near them. Sure, illegal dispensaries had already popped up all over and were providing medicinal and recreational marijuana to the province on a much larger scale, but this is Nova Scotia! Surely the province can have a monopoly and do it better. Then those 12 locations ran out of weed. Then it turned out that shortages could last for years, let alone days.
And you know what? None of that is my problem, really. It stopped being my problem when Nova Scotia decided they wanted a monopoly on weed, and nobody seemed to raise enough of a ruckus to even try and prevent it. To this day, months after legalization, Iâ€™ll have people ask me when Iâ€™ll be selling weed in my store. I have to patiently explain to them that Nova Scotia has a monopoly on weed sales, and that if they want to buy weed legally, they will have to drive to the nearest NSLC dispensary to purchase it. Every single time, they appear shocked and outraged that Nova Scotia would go in this direction. All I can do is shrug and ask them where they were when Nova Scotia was looking for feedback. â€śI said I was against the NSLC selling it,â€ť theyâ€™ll answer.
Weird, that everyone seems to be against it and nobody seems to know how many people answered as such in that little comment box at the bottom of the government survey last year. But, again, weed is not my problem anymore, however badly the province is botching it.
â€śIâ€™ll be sending customers away to try to find a liquor store that carries what their doctors want them to take.â€ť
What is my problem is CBD. Post-legalization, the NSLC dispensary locations began selling CBD/THC mixtures. Stores like mine â€” those that wanted to steer clear of THC products until legalization shook out â€” had been selling 0 per cent THC cannabidiol oil to customers looking to treat a host of medical issues.
More specifically, we had been selling it to customers showing up with prescriptions and recommendations from their doctors. My list of customers ran the gamut of medical conditions. From anxiety and sleep disorders, to sore muscles and joints, to arthritis, to fibromyalgia, to Parkinsonâ€™s, to epilepsy, to brain tumours, to amputations, to cancer. All at the behest of their doctors, most at their witsâ€™ end after heaping pills on top of pills to no relief. Most of them took a chance and tried it, and most of them ended up as repeat customers.
These people were amazed that CBD worked at all, but it seemed to work for them where everything else failed. More importantly, they were ecstatic that it worked without getting them â€śhigh.â€ť Tied into that, and maybe most importantly, it wasnâ€™t a cannabis product; it was a hemp product.
Doctors seemed more content to send their patients to anywhere other than a liquor store to buy medicine. Liquor stores selling weed is already an association many people donâ€™t want â€” the federal government even asked specifically for provinces to not sell it in liquor stores â€” but to associate liquor stores and recreational substances with pain-relief medicine seems like a far more dangerous row to hoe.
For about a month after legalization, things seemed fine. The liquor stores were selling their oils, and a variety of stores across the province were selling the THC-free variant, and the wording of legalization seemed to suggest that this was fine, because one was a cannabis product, and the other was a hemp product.
The THC-free CBD oil contains less than 0.03 per cent THC, which would suggest it being legal under the regulations surrounding industrial hemp. It seemed like a balance had been struck. Perhaps not a happy ending for everyone â€” recreational smokers, mostly â€” but there was a balance.
Until December, anyway, when a store in Bridgewater was raided by the police for selling THC-free CBD. When the storeowner asked the cops which law was being broken, the cops couldnâ€™t point to one. But Bridgewater has an NSLC dispensary, which frequently runs out of stock, and the rumblings suggest it may not have a steady supply of their CBD products for months, or even years. They apparently cannot keep up with the needs of medical CBD users, and instead of trying to remedy their own situation, it seems like the government is cracking down on everyone else to bring them down to their level.
Because this is Nova Scotia, the provincial government wants all the money, and it will trample Nova Scotians to make it happen.
My problem these days is CBD, and the lack of clarity around the legality. My hope is that people will reach out to their government representatives and demand action, and that they will tell their friends and family to do the same.
In an ideal world, the Nova Scotian government would take a long, hard look at how theyâ€™re handling things and maybe decide that theyâ€™d be happy with small-business owners taking on the risk of opening stores instead of trying to hold down yet another monopoly â€” but I would settle for the police not being used to strong-arm businesses. In the meantime, Iâ€™ll be sending customers away to try to find a liquor store that carries what their doctors want them to take.
Erron Kelly is manager, The Jolly Smoke Shop, Chester