bob
Credit: Suharu Ogawa

In his first instalment, our new cannabis columnist tries buying weed from the online government store—and considers the fate of the old-school dealer

In my Vancouver office you’ll find a 2007 iMac, a couple of guitars, an impressive dustball collection and one gram of high-potency marijuana (total THC: 18.5 percent), purchased online through BC Cannabis Stores. The process—once called scoring, if I’m not mistaken—was surprisingly efficient, and had the added advantage of not involving a bus trip to East Hastings Street to meet “Bob” in the alley behind the Pennsylvania Hotel.

The smoothness of the transaction was unexpected. When I ordered government-sanctioned “recreational use” marijuana for my first column on the evolving state of B.C.’s cannabis industry, I thought there’d be a lot to write (read: whinge) about: we were in the middle of a postal strike, so delivery snafus seemed inevitable. Plus, as with any new business, you can almost always bank on a high screw up rate in the initial stages.

And online, people had been complaining, as people like to do. Some had legitimate gripes about the new provincially run website (not enough health information for medical marijuana users), while a few were in a twist over how long it took their weed to arrive. One claimed there was a five-day interlude between ordering and receiving the product, a buzz-kill of a lag that could drive a person to drink.

Others seemed positively uncharitable: “If you are educated enough, have even a mere morsel of morality…then don’t buy the garbage this fascist, totalitarian government mafia outfit is selling,” huffed one reviewer, who, one assumes, will take their business elsewhere. Perhaps to Bob.

Considering this, I was more than a bit skeptical of BC Cannabis Stores’ ability to provide a decent user experience, or to even get the product out in a timely manner. The fact that only one official brick-and-mortar provincial outlet had opened since the Cannabis Act took effect on October 17, 2018, hardly boded well: if one of the reasons behind legalization was to kibosh the illegal trade, you’d have to do a lot better than a single distribution outpost in Kamloops. (On the first day, online sales topped 9,000 transactions, while the retail store logged 795 sales. This says a lot about pent-up demand. And about scale: Bob would have to bust his ass to put up those numbers.)

Since I couldn’t drive several hours to the Interior to meet my government-appointed dealer, the only option was to use BC Cannabis Stores’ online portal. After inputting my age, I found myself on a landing page that was clean and uncluttered, if a little sterile and un-fun.

Yet it was also comprehensive. There was tons of detailed consumer information, from the varying properties of indica and sativa to the differences between THC and CBD content. As for choice, well, is too much a bad thing? Dozens of types of pot, loose or pre-rolled into bidi-like joints, 34 different cannabis oils and capsules, and a variety of delivery systems—for sheer nostalgia, the Cheech & Chong–branded bongs, like, ruled.

What to choose? I settled on a single gram of MK Ultra ($8.99), a “pungent, high-THC strain” with an “earthy, sweet aroma,” mainly because it sounded like a Japanese manga superhero. Total cost: $19.03 after taxes and shipping—a serious disincentive when ordering small quantities. But my dope, packed in a sexlessly boring plastic container, arrived the next day by Canada Post. (You need to prove your age to accept delivery.)

All told, not a bad start for a business that was primarily a black market until last October. And make no mistake: this is an industry. In the coming months we’ll examine its impact on the provincial economy and the lives of British Columbians, from the big players in Canadian equities markets to promotional considerations and the scientific innovations going on behind the scenes—basically, any angle that sheds light on where things are heading, and what that means for B.C. As far as first steps go, however, the future looks bright. If I were Bob, I’d be worried.