Cannabis legalization is now in full effect across Canada, and with it comes a highly regulated and lucrative industry. But how does your local street dealer - the guy who was supplying the weed long before the government rolled in - feel about these changes?
Turns out, illicit dealers aren't too worried about legalization cutting into their illegal business. At least not the dealers in Quebec, who think that it will be business as usual moving forward because regulated stores won't be able to compete with the cost or convenience offered by the black market.
"[People] won't be able to buy more than 30 grams at a time," an anonymous dealer referred to as Antoine told Vice. He is, of course, talking about the regulations around how much you can buy and possess legally, which is capped at 30 grams by federal law. Antoine believes the people who smoke a lot will still opt to go to a dealer because they simply won't be able to get as much as they want for a price they're comfortable with.
"The guy who smokes an ounce a week will come see me," explains Antoine. "It'll cost him less, and he can have as much as he wants."
Another dealer called Robert says the wholesale street price of cannabis has actually decreased in recent years, even though the end price to consumers has stayed high. He says this means dealers can take a small hit to their bottom line by lowering their prices and still turn profits on illegal weed.
"It costs me less than before for a pound and I still sell three and a half grams for around $25," he says. "So it's profitable for me!"
Antoine also says most guys sell weed have their hands in other enterprises too, and will be able to shuffle their priorities if need be to make up the loss of income.
"The guys all have another hustle, 'cause weed just doesn't pay that much. Either they sell coke or pills, or they have another job, so they don't really care."
The punishment for continuing to sell marijuana illegally are now more severe than they were before. Previously, you would have to be growing over 500 plants to get a three-year sentence. Now, selling a single joint to a minor could put you behind bars for 14 years—a sentence on par with much more serious offenses such as human trafficking and facilitating a terrorist activity. However, for people who have always been operating in an illicit industry, this doesn't phase them too much, according to Antoine.
"It was already illegal when I started doing it, I will continue to do it illegally. I haven't been caught before, I'm going to be smart and won't get caught now," he said.
Other dealers think that those harsher punishments won't actually be held up, and that things will actually be less severe in the future.
"The judges aren't going to be that strict, especially now that it's a legal product," said a dealer named Jessie.
However, some are looking into giving up cannabis and instead selling drugs that carry lighter sentences if you get caught.
"The prices [of cannabis] will go up, but the penalties too, so maybe this is where you have to diversify your portfolio," another dealer called Steve said. "Maybe I'll do something else, we'll see. Maybe we'll sell Viagras, Cialis, legal pills. At least it's a lesser sentence than weed, I think."
Quality is King
Mathieu—another Quebec dealer—isn't concerned about the regulated market because he says it's the quality of his product that will ensure people keep coming back. He likens the illicit craft weed industry to that of private wine imports.
"When you want a good quality wine, made without chemicals, you order from a private importer. When people are going to want artisanal weed, they will come to see me."
The other key thing that dealers point to is the personal connections they have with their customers. Anyone who has been buying from the same dealer for an extended period of time probably has a good relationship with them. They know what they're going to get and how much it's going to cost. They probably trust the dealer's suggestions and judgment of products. A relationship like this will be much more difficult to establish at a legal weed store.
So at the end of the day, it doesn't look like the neighborhood dealer is going away just yet. Not in Quebec at least, but dealers from the other regions of Canada have yet to weigh in on the impact of legalization.