The black market for cannabis and mushrooms is alive and well online

The black market for cannabis and mushrooms is alive and well online
Online mail-order cannabis websites have been a thorn in the side of both the federal and provincial government trying to monopolize sales of cannabis. StatCan’s survey of mail-order cannabis websites showed that, in contrast to their legal counterparts, they were able to offer volume discounts to customers.   

It has also been a problem for law enforcement. The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs says the Canada Post Corporation Act prevents them from obtaining warrants to seize mail unless there is a national security risk. Canada Post also provides a detailed description of how someone should package their cannabis for shipment meant for medical cannabis patients. The description includes making sure the product is sealed so that you can’t smell what’s inside and that it is not labelled in a way that indicates what is inside.

In 2018, Edmonton Police busted an online mail-order cannabis business operating a website called CannabisCanada.Today. The Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT) seized more than $600,000 worth of cannabis products, cocaine and psilocybin mushrooms. 

In April 2020, Winnipeg police busted online cannabis distributors running a website called Dr. Kush. According to police, the business operated in the open with a website and social media pages. The illegal organization delivered cannabis in courier bags with “Skip the Dishes” branding. Police raided the warehouse that the company was based out of and confiscated $192,000 in prepackaged pot, almost $16,000 in vaping oil, $14,400 worth of shatter and $8,000 in computer equipment used for the ordering process.

In July 2020, Calgary police and RCMP shut down a website selling magic mushrooms. They seized $750,000 worth of drugs and charged a 40-year-old man with 13 counts of drug trafficking and 7 counts of possession of property obtained by crime. The Calgary Police Service Cybercrimes Unit Staff Sergeant Jeremy Wittman touched on the issue of online mail-order contraband websites in a release:

“As drug markets have moved to online platforms, so have our investigations. We have adapted our capabilities, pairing drug investigators with cyber investigators to ensure we are able to take action when we identify local sources of online drug trafficking.”

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“I think what bothers me the most about cannabis legalization in Quebec is that they legalized the product but illegalized the culture,” says Atlas, an anonymous source who recently ordered products from a mail-order website called herbapproach.com.  “When you enter an SQDC, you’re entering a foreign atmosphere. It’s very polished and clean. You aren’t allowed to smell or see the product. I always feel rushed when I go in. It’s way too corporate.”

Atlas recounts what he perceived to be a more welcoming atmosphere for cannabis consumers. “I lived in Vancouver in 2017 and they had ‘grey area’ cannabis shops that were set up by stoners for stoners. It was set up in a way that made you feel at home as a cannabis user.”

Atlas and his partner Sloan recently ordered vaporizers, CBD-infused gummies, dried magic mushrooms and magic mushroom tea bags from the illegal mail-order website. “I chose to use a mail-order cannabis website because in Quebec (at the SQDC) the legalization of cannabis left out a lot of things such as vaporizers and proper edibles.” 

Atlas wanted to find an alternative to smoking cannabis for health reasons but did not find that the SQDC had any good alternatives. “At the SQDC, the edibles are capped at a very low THC dosage. The edibles you can order from these websites are significantly stronger.” The Quebec government decided to ban the sale of THC-infused candies, confections and desserts because they don’t want to sell products that can be attractive to minors. They also decided that all THC-infused edibles must be capped at 5mg per unit and 10mg per package. In contrast, Herb Approach offers a chocolate cube that contains 1800mg of THC.

Since Atlas and Sloan were already ordering cannabis products online, they decided to also order dried magic mushrooms and magic mushroom tea bags from the same site because they were curious. “I definitely enjoy taking psychedelics. It’s been a while since I’ve eaten magic mushrooms. What attracted me the most was that there was an online forum set up on the website where you can read other consumers’ reviews about the different products and dosages. Oftentimes, when you purchase magic mushrooms on the street, you don’t really know what you’re getting and you’re guessing what a proper dosage is.” 

Atlas had very positive reviews of the magic mushroom tea bags he ordered. “It was one of the best mushroom trips I’ve ever had. It was so clean. The tea bag only had one gram of magic mushrooms in it but I was very high. I had soft visuals and a filter over my eyes. All the colours were luminescent and highlighted. I spent almost the entire trip sitting on my living room floor laughing, listening to music and making jokes. I looked at Sloan’s face and it was morphing, but not in a scary way — it was hilarious. I felt like a kid again. I wasn’t concerned about how I appeared. I was able to just enjoy the moment. Music sounded spectacular. We listened to Anderson .Paak and a lot of reggae. I kept being able to hear the different layers in music that I wasn’t able to before. There was no comedown at all. I was high for six hours and all of a sudden I wasn’t anymore and had no problem falling asleep. I usually have come-up and come-down anxiety but experienced neither. I will only be purchasing magic mushrooms from this website going forward.”

Orleans, another anonymous source, is friends with Atlas and Sloan and decided to consume the dried magic mushrooms they ordered from Herb Approach with them. “I only ate a gram and a half of the dried magic mushrooms. I never had closed-eye visuals before but this was something else. I was creating cyber-cities on the backs of my eyelids. I kept apologizing for my eyes being closed but I was enjoying it too much. I basically spent three hours sitting on the living room floor with my eyes closed laughing.”

After hearing Atlas, Sloan and Orleans recount their positive experience purchasing and consuming drugs from this illegal mail-order website, it is worth asking whether the Quebec government’s policy about THC limits in edibles is working to their benefit or are they unintentionally creating a black market? Are more people going to be experimenting with magic mushrooms now that they can get it from the same place where they can order cannabis products that the Quebec government refuses to supply? Should stronger edibles be available to adults despite the Quebec government’s perceived risk to children? Have they legalized the product but criminalized the culture? ■

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