Gov't pot fails sniff test

Both in one-on-one conversation and by following social media discussions, it seems the legal cannabis sold at government-approved stores is both too expensive and, even more importantly, of inferior quality than what's available on the street or through online mail-order vendors.

Price was always going to be an issue. There's simply no way for legal weed to compete against the black market on cost after having to go through heavily regulated production, distribution and sales channels.

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The only way the government will ever be able to corner the cannabis is to win on quality and, by extension, safety. People are willing to pay more for a superior product that they don't have to worry about whether it will hurt them because it's been spiked with God knows what. Store-bought cigarettes and alcohol are proof of that. When top brands become established with consistently reliable quality and easy availability, the black market all but disappears.

Sure, you can buy moonshine and smokes on the sly for cheaper but why bother? Too much work.

Yet that's still not on the horizon when it comes to cannabis because the anecdotal verdict on government pot is that it's mostly second-rate crap that fails both the taste and smoothness tests. And when there is good stuff, there's not nearly enough of it to meet demand.

As a result, regular users seem to have mostly stuck with their pre-legalization suppliers, whether that's "a guy I know" or the well-stocked private online distributors, who sell not just a wide variety of smoke but also a full menu of edibles and oils. In B.C. and across Canada, provincial governments have not seen the sales (and the revenues into the public coffers) that they expected.

It's business at its most basic. At the moment, there's simply not enough incentive for the majority of consumers to switch.

Until the government-approved producers are able to gain the size and production efficiency advantage that lets them produce quality cannabis to satisfy mass market demand cheaper than what the black market can offer, legal sales won't be the first choice of many shoppers.

The whole point of ending marijuana prohibition was to corner the market in order to make the supply safer and to divert the proceeds away from organized crime and into the hands of governments. The cynical would refer to government as just another form of organized crime but at least governments build hospitals, schools, roads and bridges and pay teachers, doctors, nurses and people to pick up the garbage, keep the water flowing and clear the streets of snow.

That final goal, and the benefits it would provide to consumers and the general public, remains a pipe dream years away from becoming reality.

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