Medical Cannabis in Canada Dispensary Regulations Divide and Conquer

In a free and fair market, trade occurs when you and I exchange goods or services because we value what each other have more than what we’re willing to give up. For example, in the medical cannabis in Canada market, if I’m selling shatter for $75-a-gram and you voluntarily purchase it, then by the mere act of trade you’ve demonstrated that you value that shatter more than $75. Likewise, since I agreed to sell you that shatter, it’s obvious that I value receiving that $75 more than I value losing that gram. It’s a universal law of human action that applies to all people, at all times, and in all places. And not surprisingly, just like the Supreme Court ruling on extracts, Vancouver‘s city councillors think they can defy this law as well.

In my last piece I advocated a market-based approach to regulation, citing problems with government central planning. Well, here’s another issue: forced trade pits people against each other. On August 6th’s CinC Live, Jason Wilcox called out dispensaries owners, specifically long-time activist Dana Larsen of The Dispensary, who were “complying with the city” and removing their edibles. There’s a saying which contends, “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.”. I suspect that Mr. Larsen is following this advice, complying with the city’s regulations since his youthful days of “in your face” protest are over. Now that the city is following the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries’ (CAMCD) advice for regulation, it makes more sense to be conservative and remove all edibles. If the act of opening a dispensary is a defiant move, then selling edibles in spite of the new regulations is just protesting for protest’s sake.

After all, dispensary owners are running businesses, right? It’s unfortunate that the city vowed to ban edibles, but this is a fight that should be taken to the… Board of Variance? I don’t know if this is Mr. Larsen’s thinking (or that of others who have removed edibles from dispensaries), but it’s a perfectly rational position to take considering the circumstances. While it’d be nice for the culture to unite in protest by continuing to sell edibles, the reality is that government regulations pit people against each other. Far from producing value and wealth through voluntary exchange, “forced trade” (also known as theft or taxation) only produces value for one party, leaving the other empty-handed. Mr. Larsen (or anybody else for that matter) isn’t any richer for complying with the city’s unconstitutional ban on edibles. Vancouver city councillors didn’t buy up the edible supply (with our money) and then ask the dispensary owners to stop selling. Nor did the councillors offer their regulatory scheme as a service that a business could purchase to help legitimize by accreditation. Instead, the city councillors simply said they had the power to tax and regulate so that’s what they’re going to do.

The city’s regulations put dispensaries between a rock and a hard place. For one, they want to stay open and provide a legitimate service for patients. But they also want to provide patients with what they’re demanding: edibles and extracts. Additionally, dispensaries exist because of the hard work cannabis activists have been engaged in over decades. As we’ve seen in the Prairies this past week, without the backing of a community, police can overpower and raid any small business selling medical cannabis. British Columbia has the backbone of the community, but when prominent activists start complying with the state, we neglect the culture’s power and influence.

Basing our actions on voluntary association, free trade, and respect for private property would generate accreditation agencies that would serve patients, entrepreneurs, and the community far more effectively than the state’s top-down regulatory control. Where the latter pits one against the other, the market would allow patients to retain their sovereignty as consumers while protecting the interests of other individuals in society. If competing voluntary accreditation agencies took the place of compulsory government licensing (that is, if business owners believed that such accreditation would strengthen their own status, and that consumers cared about status and were willing to pay for it) Mr. Larsen may find that patients will only shop at dispensaries with an approval from accreditation agency A. And thus he would be unwise to use agency B, as they have poor status among patients due to being ineffective as regulators. In a free and fair market, agency B would eventually go bankrupt.

Furthermore, there’s no reason regulation has to be some kind of homogenous blob. Agency A may focus on the cleanliness of the facility, while agency B is more concerned about the safety and efficacy of the edibles. Meanwhile agency C could be something entirely different, a broader regulator that protects interests like “the children” from seeing cannabis leafs in windows. If the free and fair market decides that’s an issue, then the free and fair market will address it as it is to their benefit.

Doesn’t cooperation through voluntary association and trade sound better than monopoly and taxation? The one-size-fits-all approach of the city council is both backwards and ineffective. The arbitrary rules and standards have pitted the community against each other. Mr. Wilcox is calling out Mr. Larsen (and other dispensary owners) for complying with an unconstitutional ban, while Mr. Larsen is simply complying because if he doesn’t, he’ll be at a competitive disadvantage as the city has the power to literally put him out of business.

How many more activists will comply with the rules just to further legitimatize themselves in the eyes of the state? What we’re witnessing in this community is a compromise between the state’s arbitrary power and the desire for legal cannabis. Many former activists have retired their radicalism; they’ve abandoned the notion that cannabis could be a gateway to liberty. They’re now sliding into compliance in exchange for a nice comfy existence as one of the few dispensaries that will hopefully make it past the city’s gutting process. The question then becomes: How far will they go? If they’re agreeing to unconstitutional bans and excessive regulations with naïve notions that an election might fix things, then how long will it be until they compromise on supply? The licensed producers are the only legal supply in Canada and there are no indications from any major political party that that will ever change.