Spread the love

Five years of legalization: the cannabis black market still alive

A clandestine cannabis greenhouse belonging to Vietnamese organized crime.

  • Félix Morrissette-Beaulieu (View profile)Félix Morrissette-Beaulieu
  • Camille Carpentier (View profile)Camille Carpentier

The black market for cannabis in Quebec still exists, five years after its legalization in Canada. Although the majority of consumers have completely or partially abandoned the alternative market, illicit sales remain, particularly because there is a young clientele who consume increasingly concentrated products.

Since October 17, 2018, the Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC) has recorded revenues of $2.3 billion. This is all income that organized crime does not pocket. This is what Ottawa wanted with the legalization of cannabis.

According to the Institute of Statistics of Quebec, approximately 67% of cannabis consumers obtained it at least once from the SQDC in 2022, a proportion comparable to that of 2021.

Of this number, nearly 44% of consumers aged 21 and over purchased their cannabis exclusively from the SQDC.

Open in full screen mode

An SQDC customer shows his purchases.

I find that it's much more practical now, because it's legal, assures Hélène Duchesneau to Radio-Canada as she leaves a branch of the SQDC, in the Neufchâtel district, in Quebec. She uses cannabis to treat her chronic pain. Going out to find something is more embarrassing when you're a little older!

Since the regulations came into force on cannabis, five years ago she never returned to the streets.

Conversely, 22% obtained it elsewhere than at the SQDC. The remainder of respondents, approximately 34%, reported varying their sources of supply.

This is the case of Pierre Boisvert, another consumer, met at the same SQDC. He is looking for a product that is not sold in stores. I would like us to benefit from the same things as the rest of Canada, he said. It could be creams, different CBD products, for example.

Open in full screen mode

Since October 17, 2018, the Société québécoise du cannabis has recorded revenues of $2.3 billion, according to the Quebec government.

The black market is not in much difficulty, summarizes Serge Brochu, researcher at the University Institute on Addictions at the University of Montreal. Because 40% of young people under 21 use drugs in Quebec, and it's illegal! So, these young people have to go through the illicit market, or ask an older brother or a parent to buy them this product.

As long as the black market can benefit from this legal age of 21, it will not be in much danger.

A quote from Serge Brochu, researcher at the Institute academic on addictions from the University of Montreal

Serge Brochu also notes a change in the consumption habits of young people, particularly the popularity of cannabis vapes, commonly called “wax pens”. It is prohibited for sale in SQDCs due to a high level of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), so young people must turn to the black market to obtain it.

This is a relatively recent phenomenon. It must be said that it is possible to obtain it very, very, very easily now. The illicit market offers plenty. In Ontario, I think it's even legal, so you can easily get it. But it's an emerging phenomenon among young people.

Open in full screen mode

Nicotine and cannabis use among adolescents is a phenomenon that worries school stakeholders.

The expert is, however, unequivocal: the legalization of cannabis has largely achieved its objective of restricting the illicit market. It's only been five years. The SQDC says it captures 50% of the market, which is huge. And all these profits, rather than going into the pockets of criminal markets, are necessarily and by law paid into prevention and research concerning cannabis.

Since its creation in 2018, the SQDC has paid $263.5 million to the Addiction Fund, including $94.9 million in 2022-2023.

It should be noted that, during its first year of activity, the SQDC received $4.9 million from the fund to reduce its deficit , explains a spokesperson for the SQDC.

Serge Brochu is also in favor of lowering the legal age for consuming cannabis, which is 21 years in Quebec compared to 18 or 19 years in other provinces of Canada.

The police forces are also clear: the legalization of cannabis has strongly influenced their work.

The Sûreté du Québec (SQ), for example, has devoted more resources to attacking the largest trafficker, rather than the small ones, partly sidelined by legalization.

Open in full screen mode

Sixty-nine people work daily in the fight against cannabis smuggling in Quebec, explains Marc-André Proulx, head of the Investigation Department contraband to the Sûreté du Québec.

We have more resources, which means that, in terms of statistics, we have more interventions, more searches, more charges in cases involving cannabis throughout Quebec, in the territories served by the Sûreté, explains Marc-André Proulx, head of the Contraband Investigation Department at the SQ.

Today, we are talking about 69 resources who work daily in the fight against cannabis smuggling here in Quebec. These resources support our patrol officers and investigators throughout the province.

A quote from Marc-André Proulx, head of the Contraband Investigation Department at the SQ

Start of widget. Skip the widget?End of widget. Return to top of widget?

These resources are at the forefront of changes in the illicit market. Criminal networks are increasingly using registration certificates issued by Health Canada for personal production for medical purposes. Organized crime then resells this production for illicit purposes.

Open in full screen mode

Police officers in Quebec seize illegal cannabis plants.

Criminal networks use this registration certificate to give an appearance of legitimacy to illicit activities, so these are large-scale productions that require significant investments, both for the start of a production and for its maintenance, its exploitation, warns the police officer.

These registration certificates complicate the investigation work and the ability of the police to intervene. Before 2018, it was enough to demonstrate that there was production and that it was illegal to have grounds for intervention. Since legalization, the police have been called upon to demonstrate instead that the production of cannabis is really intended for sale on the black market, which greatly complicates our investigations, notes Mr. Proulx.

The police must also juggle the seizure of cannabis that is illegal in Quebec, but legal in other provinces or online. This is the case with the cannabis vape. As a police organization, we are faced with the online sale of this type of product or edibles, jujubes for example, which are very attractive to young customers. Online sales ensure that the products that are available in Quebec regularly come from other provinces, as the information shows.

The police officer reminds that any product that is not sold in an SQDC branch is illegal in Quebec.

  • Félix Morrissette-Beaulieu (View profile)Félix Morrissette-BeaulieuFollow
  • Camille Carpentier ( View profile)Camille CarpentierFollow
Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116