Customer Service Is Keeping Canada's Black Market for Marijuana in Business, Experts Warn

Customer service is keeping the black market for marijuana in business, according to critics of cannabis legalization in Canada.

Thanks to the Canadian government's cannabis regulations, budtenders in licensed marijuana retailers across the country aren't allowed to discuss the effects of specific cannabis strains with customers, nor can they recommend certain cannabis products to suit a customer's needs.

"If I ask the retailer what strains are less likely to [have a particular, undesired effect], they're not allowed to tell me, because it's not a medical product and they’re not allowed to make medical claims about it," explained Jamie Shaw, Communications Director at the cannabis company Pasha Brands.

That doesn't mean that budtenders at licensed retailers are unable to discuss the products at all. In many stores, products are placed into broad categories such as strains that help consumers relax or feel energized. Each product's packaging must list the amounts of cannabis' two primary compounds, THC (which produces the high associated with cannabis) and CBD (which doesn't cause intoxication but is often used to treat things like pain, stress and inflammation).

However, the THC and CBD levels don't tell the whole story about a product's effects. Different strains with the same THC and CBD levels can often provide wildly different experiences based on the presence of numerous other compounds. For example, one strain might treat a certain type of pain better than others, according to Noah Kauffman, the head of sale for Strainprint, a company that tracks how cannabis consumers have responded to various strains. When he recently looked at the effects of several strains with the same THC and CBD levels on muscle pain, the results were striking.

"I had seven strains, and there was a downward-angled line for efficacy. So one was really good [at treating muscle pain], and one was really bad."

While legal cannabis sellers can't tell you which strain preformed the best, black market dealers are often happy to share the decades' worth of first-hand knowledge about cannabis' effects. And until legal shops can provide this kind of advice too, experts like cannabis consultant Ehren Richardson fear the black market will continue to thrive.

To combat that, licensed retailers need the freedom to discuss the effects of cannabis in greater detail; otherwise, consumers will continue to be put off by their budtender's inability to give them the information they need about cannabis products.  

"They need to understand what they're getting themselves into, otherwise they're going to be going back to their old sources," Richardson told The Star Vancouver.

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