Retailers face backlash after “tone deaf” letter attacks illicit market

McLean says the eight retailers need to apologize and consider donating to Cannabis Amnesty, an organization that lobbies for expungement of cannabis-related charges to undo the some of the harms of cannabis prohibition.

Michelle Gamage | Mugglehead Media

A letter from several cannabis retailers sent to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police asking for a crackdown on the country’s unregulated and grey markets has received strong backlash.

On Tuesday, BNN Bloomberg reported eight retailers, including Superette Inc., High Tide Inc. and Donnelly Group, were calling on police to shut down unregulated retail and delivery services specifically the website Weedmaps.

The retailers were concerned that online consumers can’t tell the difference between regulated and unregulated businesses on platforms like Weedmaps, BNN reported.

People responded with outrage online, stating plans to boycott the retailers.

Calling for the police involvement was tone deaf, Calyx + Trichomes co-founder Jennawae McLean said in a phone interview.

“We should not be calling for any police enforcement, it’s ridiculous. After a century of prohibition proved that it’s expensive, ineffective and also disproportionately targeted Black, Indigenous and differently abled people,” she said.

As a retailer who made the transition from legacy to legal, McLean says she understands what it is these retailers are calling for.

“I’ve been raided. To wish that on anyone is heartless. It’s a horrible situation to go through,” she said. “It’s a horrible 13 months of hell, uncertainty and not knowing what is going to happen next. If you’re lucky enough you’ll get a judge who understands what you’re going through, who will see your side but the chances of that are none. And you’re financially drained at the end of it.”

Retailers should work to include people from the unregulated market instead, she says. “People are just trying to make a living. Include them hire them.”

Calyx + Trichomes has a hiring policy that does just that by guaranteeing an interview to anyone with a cannabis-related criminal record or a history of cannabis advocacy, McLean says.

Responding to the backlash, Superette CEO Mimi Lam issued a statement Tuesday apologizing for seeming to pit legacy versus legal markets against each other.

“Superette’s stance is to grow a sustainable industry, and in doing so, one that acknowledges, embraces and supports the transition of legacy operators,” it reads.

Mugglehead reached out to several of the retailers for an interview but did not hear back. Lam declined an interview.

But issuing a Twitter apology is not enough to reverse the damage done, veteran cannabis activist Jodie Emery told Mugglehead.

“They need to re-write a new letter to the RCMP explaining that the best way to eliminate the illicit providers of cannabis is to legalize them and include them,” she said. “If they want to succeed in business they need to win on their own merit and the products and services they have not by calling on government to shut down their competition.”

McLean agrees that punishing someone for working in the unregulated market and doing what they need to do to survive is not the answer.

“Yeah, we had to go through a lot to get our licence but that’s the advantage we have over someone who is unregulated,” McLean said. “We’ve been approved and we’re selling legal cannabis they’re not. We’re allowed to have a storefront they’re not.”

There needs to be more recognition of how today’s industry stands on the shoulders of the legacy market, Emery explains. “These legal cannabis retailers only exist because of the lawbreakers who paved the way through civil disobedience and leadership in business. The model these stores use was created by the very people they’re lobbying against,” she said.

McLean says she hopes to see retailers putting their energy towards improving the industry rather than what she sees as whining about their competition.

“They need to be directing lobbying efforts towards lowering the excise tax and encouraging Health Canada to licence more producers so we have lower-price, better-quality, more selection, more variety cannabis,” she said. “They should be lobbying for curbside [pickup] and delivery. It’s baffling to me because there are so many better things they could be wasting their energy, effort and voice on.”

At a minimum, McLean says the eight retailers need to apologize and consider donating to Cannabis Amnesty, an organization that lobbies for expungement of cannabis-related charges to undo the some of the harms of cannabis prohibition.

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