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Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Aug 8, 2003.

  1. By Chris Turner, National Post
    Source: National Post

    THE MARKET: It's early evening on a lovely spring day in Toronto, and one of Canada's million-plus cannabis users -- let's call him Dave -- makes a phone call. The guy at the other end of the line is Dave's Guy. The Guy. Dave's known him for more than a year now. The Guy used to be a friend of a friend, that's how Dave found him, and then the friend of a friend took Dave to meet The Guy, to vouch for Dave, and that was that. Dave calls The Guy directly now. The Guy's in, answers the phone. Dave says he needs half an ounce.

    No problem. Come on by.
    Dave walks a few blocks to a high-rise apartment building, buzzes The Guy's number, gets let in. Up at the apartment, they shoot the shit for a bit. Current events, movies they've seen recently. There's a bond here that needs minding, a comfort zone that needs maintaining. They need to trust each other: Dave trusts that he's getting good stuff; The Guy trusts that Dave won't spread the word too much. The Guy doesn't want to be known, you know? In fact, The Guy got robbed not long ago, and so there are several elaborate new locks on the door.

    The Guy digs out his steel lockbox -- a generic thing, no bigger than your average tackle box. It's stuffed full of dense, resinous buds. Marijuana. They talk about the latest batch: about its potency, about the characteristics of the high it produces.

    Half an ounce is measured out, piled into a Ziploc. A hundred and fifty bucks changes hands. A drop in a multi-billion-dollar bucket.

    This buying ritual is about all Dave knows of the fast-growing industry born of his preferred recreational intoxicant. In this respect Dave is no different from the vast majority of Canada's regular pot users -- there are at least 1.5 million, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Very few know where the pot they're smoking was grown or how it got from there to their dealers. Who grows it? In what quantities? How is it distributed? Partially because those with extensive knowledge of the industry don't want to go to jail -- and so don't want to speak to the likes of me -- and partially because law-enforcement officials base their understanding of the industry primarily on the tiny minority that happens to get caught, the definitive information that could yield answers to these questions is harder to find than a suburban grow room.

    I've talked to Vancouver cops who'd rather not extrapolate from their local knowledge to any kind of national picture, and to federal law-enforcers who extrapolated from their limited picture a little too willingly -- seeming, to my mind, a bit quick to suggest that anyone involved with the pot industry is complicit in a violent and dangerous criminal enterprise. I've talked to growers who knew little more than the details of their own grow room and the two or three people to whom they sell their crop, and to activists who couldn't say much for certain about the full scope of the business but felt strongly that it didn't look like the version the cops were peddling. Still, by following the supply chain that links the fields and (more often) rooms full of marijuana plants to the countless informal markets like the one that exists between Dave and his Guy, a rough sketch of the industry does emerge.

    And it's an industry that's as extensive and elaborate in this country as it is anywhere else in the world. Marijuana production has exploded in Canada in the past two decades. As recently as the early 1980s, the overwhelming majority of the cannabis consumed here was imported from traditional growing regions like Jamaica and Mexico, with domestic cultivation limited to self-interested hobby farmers and the odd cottage-industry operation. Since then, Canada has transformed itself into a major producer, providing a large majority of the pot consumed domestically and much more -- by one estimate, as much as 85% of Canadian-grown marijuana winds up in the U.S. market. Along the way, Canada has also earned a reputation globally as the producer of the world's highest-quality pot. This is widely acknowledged in -- and about -- British Columbia, where some of the world's most potent and most coveted marijuana is grown. This "B.C. Bud" -- an umbrella term for the many strains of Grade A marijuana grown in the province -- boasts a reputation among connoisseurs akin to the oenophile's reverence for Bordeaux reds. There are little more than best guesses as to the full size of the industry -- in B.C. and elsewhere. British Columbia's Organized Crime Agency, for example, values the province's pot harvest at $6 billion annually, while the province's self-proclaimed "Prince of Pot" claims it's more like $4.2 billion. Tally up the low-ball estimates nationwide, understand that none of these guesses includes ancillary industries -- from paraphernalia shops to growing-equipment manufacturing to the convenience store around the corner from my apartment that sells flavoured Blunt rolling papers -- and realize that we're looking at a national industry that's at least $7-billion strong, which is almost as big as Canada's cattle industry.

    THE RAW MATERIALS: The seeds of the cannabis plant are peppercorn-sized, tear-shaped and smooth-skinned. Their colour ranges from light yellow to deep olive to wine-grade purple. They are odourless. They are also, for the majority of producers and users, useless. Most of the people involved in the growing of cannabis -- whether Québécois industrial growers affiliated with biker gangs or independent producers in need of work after their jobs in failing resource-based businesses dried up -- start their crops from clones, small seedlings snipped from full-grown plants.

    The most prominent exception to this rule is Marc Emery, 45, the aforementioned Prince of Pot, whose primary business is Marc Emery Direct Seeds, a mail-order cannabis-seed business that grosses, by his estimate, $3 million per year. In his business acumen, as in many things, Emery is as far removed from the laconic longhairs stereotypically associated with the marijuana industry as you could possibly imagine. At a glance, you might mistake him for a reasonably hip middle-management type out on the weekend. His speech is not lightning-quick but fairly rapid nonetheless, and steady, and it carries multiple parallel topics at once, looping them in and out of one another like individual stalks of hemp in a thick rope.

    Note: It's bigger than wheat, dairy or the fishery -- and the boom has only begun. Inside the business of pot: who grows it, who sells it and how it gets to buyers. A journey through a $7-billion underground economy.


    Complete Article:

    Source: National Post (Canada)
    Author: Chris Turner, National Post
    Published: Tuesday, August 5, 2003
    Copyright: 2003 National Post Business Magazine

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