Marijuana goes mainstream

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What a difference a year or so makes.

Right now, as we speak, criminal cases are wending their way through Canada’s court system for individuals who were caught running “dial-a-dope” businesses. In case you’ve not run into that term before, it’s people who run a phone service to sell drugs. You dial, place an order, set up a meeting, hand over the money and get the goods.

If it’s a police officer on the other end of the line instead of a regular customer, the handover might end up with the seller in jail.

Now, with the changes in cannabis laws, it looks like our provincial liquor monopoly is getting into the dial-a-dope business as well, but you’ll be dialing this dealer on the internet, and delivery will be even more convenient.

A couple of weeks ago, the Newfoundland Labrador Liquor Corporation sent out request for proposals #T18-1186. The request is for someone to provide a “Cannabis eCommerce Solution” for the NLC. There’s a very short turnaround for the proposal: issued on April 6, the contract closed on April 20, and the system has to be completely ready for roll-out and operation by June 30.

Basically, the solution the liquor corporation is looking for is a way to sell weed on the web: to be more precise, to let customers to shop for cannabis online and have it delivered to their door.

Or, in their own words, “to enable … customers to place orders online and deliver to home.”

There are obviously a few hurdles: the system has to do things like allow the system to verify that potential buyers are of legal age, or, as the request for proposals puts it, “Age verification capabilities that will enable NLC to define acceptable age verification mechanisms such as credit cards, government issued I.Ds.”

There also have to be systems that make sure only residents of this province are using the service: “Address verifications capabilities that will enable NLC to define acceptable address types and ensure that all shipping addresses are within Newfoundland and Labrador.”

The site would also keep track of a buyer’s history of previous purchases, and their “favourited items.” There even has to be capability for an email weed newsletter, and plans are being made for customer support modules using any one of live chat, email and telephone support for customers.

In other words, weeds sales are quickly going to take the same lighter tone as the province’s handling of liquor sales. That’s all fine: both will be legal products. It will be marijuana mainstream, with the web-based systems handling both direct sales to customers and higher-volume sales to private licenced cannabis retailers.

The provincial government will go from weed policeman to storefront, online dealer, with every single one of the bells and whistles.

And the volumes might startle you — people bidding on NLC’s WeedWeb system (that’s my nickname, but they’re welcome to use it if they want) are being told to plan their systems to handle between 200,000 and 400,000 purchases in the first year alone. By Year 2, the NLC is expecting a maximum of 500,000 weed purchases. By year three, as many as 600,000 individual orders.

But what’s so startling is the speed involved. It’s already been startling to watch former staunch opponents of legalization — like former Conservative cabinet minister Julian Fantino — pop up as executives in newly formed pot companies. But when the law gets passed and the legalization switch gets flipped (either on the first of July or sometime in the months afterwards), one of the most startling things will be how instantaneous the transition will be.

Websites will go live, and orders will be taken.

The provincial government will go from weed policeman to storefront, online dealer, with every single one of the bells and whistles.

The official transition of cannabis from “scourge of our youth” to corporate opportunity is truly a wonder to behold — but watching it, you can only imagine how quickly other scourges might be similarly commodified, with something as simple as a change in social mores.

It makes you wonder, though, how those who are still facing criminal charges – and those with long-standing records for marijuana convictions – think about the whole process.

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