The bright side of black-market dispensaries on native reserves

Published Mar 3, 2020 10:00 a.m. ET
iStock / RoschetzkyIstockPhoto

The term black market tends to conjure the image of a street drug dealer, and the majority of those who believe in this vicious stereotype remain under the impression that very little good could come from it. It's quite natural to want to do things properly, and most know that those millions worth of tax dollars are sorely needed, but we still need to acknowledge what some black market dispensary owners are doing right, and how positively their presence is impacting the surrounding areas.

When it all started

The massive influx of new dispensaries arriving daily didn’t begin until just before legalization was official in October of 2018, but the arrival of cannabis products on first nations reserves can be traced back to an entire year earlier. Though there were certainly a few locations across the country that received a bit of heat, for the most part, these cannabis stores have since been left to build up to an incredible thriving black market that draws customers from miles away.

What they have to offer

Big city black market dispensaries that are frequently shut down, carry only limited product to prevent big losses, but these smaller, more consumer-focused stores offer visitors a unique experience that is hard to compete with. Though each pot shop has its own menu and brands, you can find everything from grade-A flower, rosin, and hash, to more exotic concentrates like terp juice, crystals, edibles, patches, oils, budder, shatter, BHO, and cannabis-infused drinks.

Thanks to their apparent immunity they even boast a more unique topical selection that includes moisturizers, ointments, and balms, and when you have all of these things combined, it's pretty hard to deny that there isn’t any other more competitive selection in one place at any one of the legal provincially-run cannabis dispensaries. This is a major motivator for black market customers, but it’s not the only thing that keeps them coming back for more.

Why black-market dispensary customers remain loyal?

A mouthwatering menu is definitely hard to turn down, but since the majority of cannabis consumers still prefer to smoke regular buds, that can’t be the only thing that dispensaries on reserves have going for them, but if you take a moment to break down the smaller details, you’ll be left to wonder why anyone is shopping at provincially-run stores.

Black market dispensaries don’t often impose limits on their goods, which means more highly concentrated products that are more suitable for consumers who have built a tolerance to cannabinoids. They also don’t charge federal taxes or chose pricing based on any governing agency, which means that customers are getting much better deals on the black market.

Deals that are offered on large amounts of cannabis products, making it more affordable to keep from running out, a feature that is imperative for anyone with a medical condition who requires a sizeable dose every day. Even if you chose to put all of that aside, you'd probably appreciate the fact that here, your purchases aren’t tracked, and the majority of exchange happens in cash, so you can safely work in and travel to sensitive places without fear of your choices coming back to haunt you.

How they are positively impacting the communities


Most who travel through first nations reserves can see firsthand the big difference that this brand-new industry is making, as it breathes fresh life and hopes into every reaching corner. If you take a look at the average cannabis store on a reserve, you will notice one commonality, and it's that each shop is run by a small business owner and that most of those who are doing well at it, didn’t have much for gainful employment options before cannabis came into their lives without traveling for an hour or more away from home each day.

Since all of these pot shops are run solely by community members, all of the financial benefits trickle down into the community. Stores and gas stations are seeing an increase in business, and construction crews are hard at work making improvements to roads, community centers, schools, infrastructure, education, and anything else that they can think of to benefit the next generation. At one time, these areas held a reputation for looking rundown and deserted, but now they are flowing with people from miles around who are putting money into the local economy.

The laws

Though to date, very few dispensaries that are located on reserves have experienced much interference with business, they are not currently legal, as any licensed dispensary within the country, no matter where it is located, must adhere to provincial regulations. The federal government has left a small window of opportunity open, by allowing the individual provinces to decide if they’d like to make exceptions for these communities, but right now, most of these cannabis storefronts are breaking the law.

The few who don’t like it

Society as a whole has a history of accepting change, and there are some people who live in these or close surrounding communities who do not approve of the presence of these stores. Some are simply concerned about the outcome of so many illicit facilities, while others are insulted at the idea of legalization in the first place, but no one is complaining louder than the owners of dispensaries who are following the rules.

Unfortunately, entrepreneurs who have invested thousands of dollars for the chances to make it big in the legal cannabis industry, are having a difficult time keeping up to the black market. With such a late introduction of cannabis concentrates, low cannabinoid limits, and sky-high prices and taxes, all while offering no financial benefits for those who need larger amounts, it’s pretty easy to see why they aren’t bringing in sales anywhere close to their initial projections.

In conclusion

The people who are losing money due to this unfortunate situation are digging deeper every day, and though most are holding out in hopes of legislation changes that allow them to truly flourish, the future as it looks now isn’t looking positive. This could all change in an instant if the federal government opt to open the cannabis market into something that is more comparable to other small businesses, but until then, the people are speaking with their money, and they are more than happy to make the trip if it means a more positive experience, in a small local community.

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