How People Find Pot: A Global Perspective

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canandian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School. He continues our exploration of drugs under quarantine, exploring how the marijuana market functions in the US and abroad during a global pandemic. 

The news is bleak, and the media’s propaganda war against, and in favor of, the current administration, coupled with the lockdown resulting from COVID-19, makes it difficult for all Americans to stay home and comply with their social duty.  But unlike in 1918, the last time a debilitating illness swept the globe, today’s America has the luxury of enjoying a wider array of leisure activities under lockdown.

In many states this includes the legal right to consume marijuana in all its forms.  Indica, sativa, and hybrid “flower” are now accessible to hundreds of thousands of American consumers, who are incorporating it into their lockdown routine.  This new social experience isn’t limited to Americans, either.  The laws in Canada and Uruguay allow citizens to partake in this newly-legal form of recreation, and the same practice takes place in other countries too, though it’s criminalized there. Global consumers seeking the joy of the herb have found their own ways of securing a share of the market in order to navigate the new realities of life under the pandemic. 

And pot is a perfect pandemic product. Unlike toilet paper, it’s abundant and readily available. It’s also local; marijuana no longer relies on global supply chains, like it did in the twentieth century and before. Instead, in most legal states, pot is as locally produced as craft beer, and local customers directly support the local market. In Maine, where I live, it is legal to grow your own plants and purchase bud from the local market for medical or recreational purposes, and dispensaries in Maine are considered essential businesses. 

Interestingly, though, it’s not always a commercial product in Maine. Instead, barter seems to be one of the drug’s most unique cultural and economic dynamics. I heard about a person in Blue Hill, near Mount Desert Island, who was trading marijuana for lockdown necessities like groceries and toilet paper.  In other parts of the state, reports of good neighbors, vigilant about social distance, share the goodwill of their “flower” with the community, leaving small gifts here and there to those that appreciate the drug’s calming and relaxing effects.  These gifts, under current stressful times, represent a new alternative to pharma-based stress medications or alcohol, and their recipients enjoy a hyper-local “Made in USA” product, whose market directly supports their community. 

In Canada, cannabis stores are open for business and have received the support of the authorities, as explained in last week’s blog entry, “How Evergreen, Vancouver’s First Legal Cannabis Store, is Coping with Coronavirus.” It seems the pot market’s transition to a COVID-19 economy didn’t experience any hiccups, at least for the marijuana consumer. I spoke to friends in Montreal and they reported that delivery services and mail-in services continue to serve the demand of Canadian consumers. Private delivery services continue uninterrupted and the same may be said about the Canada Post.  The local supply chain seems to be working well.  

Screenshot 2020-05-07 09.41.31

For a Colombian-American, however, it also seems shocking. Two summers ago, I was amazed to see a package delivered by Canada Post to my friend’s home in Montreal.  Inside the package was a well-presented box with marketing, branding, and warning labels, and inside the box were three tightly rolled joints of significant size.  I was the only one wowed in the room; this was business as usual in 2018 Canada, and it remains business as usual today. Even under the country’s COVID-19 precautions, that high quality service continues to be the norm.

The idea of legality still blows my mind. I am a member of Generation X, who grew up with paranoia of criminality that stigmatized marijuana during the 70s, 80s, 90s, and most of the first two decades of the 2000s. Growing up during the early stages of the Drug War era in Colombia, marijuana was linked to the lifestyle of the socially marginalized, the Colombian want-to-be Hippie or the actual American Hippie trafficking marijuana back into the USA.

Today, recreational consumption is still criminalized, though medical use is not, and the informal market is responding to Colombians’ demand for the drug. But, unlike the door-to-door personal service experienced by upper-class Western clientele in places like Canada or the US, in Colombia the market is a bit more complicated, not only because the drug is illegal, but because lockdown rules are much more strict. 

In Colombia, the home delivery person may only go out on the streets on the assigned days of the week, which are based on gender, therefore demanding more sophisticated logistics and distribution strategies. This also affects informal street sellers and buyers, impacting pricing in the streets.  Limitations in supply and increasing logistical costs have increased the price of marijuana in the Colombian market.  It is just more difficult to get the commodity, which is good news for those Colombians that caught the bug of the self-growing culture early, before the pandemic hit.

Screenshot 2020-05-07 09.41.44

In the male-dominated cannabis market, the gender-based COVID-19 social distancing rules have also impacted the efficiency of home delivery services in Colombia.  This has been confirmed by my colleagues from my old banking days, who stress that the marijuana market is thriving but that the local supply chain has been interrupted by the laws of civility.  The solution has been to buy in bulk, a luxury of the informal market.  

There are other places in the world where cannabis criminalization and taboo continue to be the norm.  Nevertheless, it is crazy that we can alternatively talk about the situation in places like the United States, Canada or even Colombia, and note that marijuana is readily available in all three places, regardless of lockdowns and a global pandemic. Not that cannabis is not stigmatized or criminalized in Colombia, it is just that the westernization of the culture has reached such a level that it has replicated the services and conveniences of first-mover markets such as Canada and the United States. We live in a globalized market where Western thought and behavior continues to be replicated by new global consumers, even when it comes to using drugs. Take a tour on WhatsUp and you will know what I mean.