James Lloyd MacFarlane

When it comes to marijuana and law enforcement, U.S. stringency and Canadian leniency have long been a match made in heaven. Such a harmonious (and lucrative) relationship, it seemed, could never fall apart.

For decades, America’s infatuation with “B.C.-bud” has increased in both intensity and illicitness. Each day, hundreds of kilograms of the coveted crop are hauled through secret underground tunnels, hidden in custom-designed double-hulled boats, or brazenly driven through border crossings as the “undeclared merchandise” of otherwise ordinary tourists.

“95% of the marijuana grown in B.C. is sent south of the border.”

– Former U.S. Drug Czar John Walters.

Officials on both sides of the border agree that America’s love-affair with “B.C. Bud” has blossomed into a $7.5-billion industry, employing a labour force of 250,000 Canadians. Unofficially, “Blackberry Kush” is a bigger economic player than BlackBerry Ltd.

Like any good love story, it has both captivated our attention and conflicted our opinions. Some Canadians view the cross-border cannabis affair as an epic tale of forbidden passion, while some Canadians regard it as a relentless scourge of organized crime. The affair, however, appears to be is reaching its end, and no matter what your point of view, there’s only one reason why.


In November 2012, the State of Washington passed Initiative 502.  The balloted initiative, which replaces marijuana prohibition with a licensing structure similar to alcohol, attracted an unprecedented 81% voter turnout.

With the exception of Colorado, which also passed a similar initiative in 2012, marijuana is still illegal in all other states.  However, legalization bills have popped up in Maine and Rhode Island, and discussions of new ballot initiatives can be heard in Massachusetts, Vermont, California and Oregon.

Though technically still a Schedule 1 controlled substance on the federal level, on Thursday the US Department of Justice announced its intent to abstain from interference in state-level marijuana legislation.  Paul Armantano, deputy director of the marijuana advocacy group NORML, called the DOJ’s announcement a “recognition that a majority of the public and in some states a majority of lawmakers no longer want to continue down the road of illegal cannabis.”

“It certainly appears to be potentially the beginning of the end.”

– Paul Armantano, Deputy Director, NORML

The political, cultural, and economic landscape of cannabis is changing.  For consumers south of the border, especially those whose medicinal need is critical to their quality of life, the change comes with a sigh of relief.  At the same time, it has left producers north of the border holding their breath.  Decades of prohibition have made B.C.’s cannabis industry the province’s second largest GDP contributor.

The Washington Initiative will undoubtedly be a damaging blow to B.C.’s relationship with the American cannabis market. Its phased implementation is set to begin by the end of this year.  As other states get a whiff of that sickly-sweet green tax revenue, they’ll enact similar changes in policy, driving the wedge even deeper.

The United States, which has long been a faithful sweetheart to Canadian black marketeers, has suddenly found itself surrounded by other potential suitors. There now exists an abundance of younger, sexier, California-educated cannabis cultivators, and they’re flashing alluring glances at the broader American market.

Could this be the end of a dangerous and sometimes violent forbidden romance? Is legalization poised to steal away B.C.’s most gainful clandestine darling? 

Ultimately, that remains to be seen. Loosening taboos tend to be contagious, and with two-thirds of Canadians polled by Forum Research stating their support for relaxing Canada’s marijuana laws, the cannabis-friendly reputation behind such playful monikers as “Vansterdam” may yet survive the rapidly changing attitudes happening south of the border.

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