Living legacy: Is it time to get with it and get rid of the term “black market”?

Language fails to acknowledge pioneering work, could erect barriers to greater inclusiveness moving forward


The Canadian cannabis industry has recently been quite busy with several business conferences. But one thing has noticeably changed from event offerings last year: the term “black market” is getting the none-too-subtle heave-ho.

For some, it’s about time. Danielle Jackson (Miz D), a Vancouver-born artist, advocate and entrepreneur, was one of the first to say she prefers “legacy market” over “black market” when describing pre-legalization cannabis business at a Canweedine event last month in the heart of downtown Toronto.

Jackson was answering an audience question about the part of Canada’s cannabis industry that was created before legalization, much of which still remains unlicensed and unregulated by Health Canada. Her comment got enthusiastically audible support from the audience that night, and a few days later, she answered a reply. “It may be difficult to understand if you have not experienced this stigma personally. I prefer ‘legacy’ or ‘self-regulated’ as this is where I come from.”

Jennifer Caldwell, partner and technical lead at Cannabis License Experts, has been actively involved in the cannabis sector since 2013, working on over 60 licensed producer applications, including that of the very first new ACMPR (Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations) licensee, Peace Naturals. At the UCann2019 conference, held earlier this month in downtown Toronto, Caldwell framed the term “legacy market” while a part of the Licensing panel discussion.

“To me, the term ‘black market’ implies a negative connotation of illegality and illegitimacy,” she noted in a later email to The GrowthOp. “Whether people are growing illegally or not is a complex topic at the moment.”

The Canadian cannabis industry has recently been quite busy with several business conferences. But one thing has noticeably changed from event offerings last year: the term “black market” is getting the none-too-subtle heave-ho. iStock / Getty Images Plus

Caldwell points out the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), which regulated medical cannabis in Canada from July 2013 to August 2016, replaced the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) that came before it, except the new regulations did not allow patients to grow their own cannabis plants.

“This caused a big uproar,” she says, but “the Allard v. Canada case resulted in an injunction that allowed MMAR licence-holders to maintain their licence to produce and possess for their own personal medical needs. MMAR licences continue to stay as the Allard injunction is still in place, and there are still those growing under the MMAR.”

When the ACMPR replaced the MMPR in August 2016, personal production licences were issued to patients under that framework as well. “So, there are individuals growing under many of the ‘legacy’ regulations who are not in violation of the law,” says Caldwell, “unless, of course, they are selling the product which is illegal.”

Legacy terminology gaining appeal

One of the primary reasons “legacy market” seems to be winning over the hearts and minds of the cannabis industry is that it pays respect to those who came before the regulated sector. “We wouldn’t have a cannabis industry at all if not for the tenacious efforts of many ‘legacy’ growers,” says Caldwell. “Patients and growers who believed in cannabis as a medicine pushed boundaries, changed thought patterns and challenged the status quo, often at peril to themselves, to ensure that cannabis was available to help those who depended on it. They are talented growers who produce incredible medicine and have developed unique and valuable cultivars. Without them, the industry as we know it today does not exist. I don’t want to belittle and stigmatize their contributions by referring to them with a negative term like ‘black market’,” she adds.

“I don’t like the term ‘black market’ simply because I’m tired of ‘black’ being associated with everything negative.” iStock / Getty Images Plus

Different terms put forward, but none are “black market”

On social media, there is some debate over the terminology that best captures the illegality of the “black market” without being offensive or unclear.

Unity Marguerite offered several suggestions on Twitter, including “informal,” “pre-regulated” and “silver market” because she, too, is trying eliminate “black market” from her vocabulary for its racial implications.

Others, though, are fine with the term, black market. Piper Courtney, cannabis editor at The Georgia Straight, a weekly publication out of Vancouver, calls it a drug war-era term, tweeting “there is power in the linguistic reclamation and reappropriation of pejoratives.”

Merriam-Webster defines legacy as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past,” and some think the descriptor leaves cannabis pioneers in the past, too.

Caldwell doesn’t disagree, but does her best to reframe that definition. “I think the normalization of cannabis use, the reduced stigma, the acceptance, the freedom to use it legally that we have today,” she notes, “are a direct result of the efforts and sacrifices made by ‘legacy’ growers in the not-so-distant past.”

Going forward, the “black market” label could possibly be detrimental for those who identify as such. Health Canada seems to have been granting licences more freely to those who stayed out of cannabis during prohibition, and fewer to those who operated illegally.


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