AT A former Hershey’s chocolate factory just outside Ottawa a company called Tweed now produces a rather different confection: marijuana for Canada’s tightly regulated medical market. Under the gaze of surveillance cameras, scientists in lab coats concoct new cannabis-based blends in near-sterile conditions. A repurposed candy mixer does the blending. Only in the growing rooms does the spirit of Cheech and Chong, a stoned comedy duo, seem to preside: the plants have names like Black Widow, Deep Purple, Chem Dawg and Bubba Kush.
The market, though growing fast, is still tiny: just 30,000 registered patients buy their supplies from licensed firms like Tweed (short for therapeutic weed). Its parent company had sales of C$4.2m ($3.1m) in the six months that ended on September 30th. But the promise by Justin Trudeau, Canada’s new prime minister, to legalise marijuana could widen the customer base to well beyond the 3m Canadians thought to consume it now. The government’s first “speech from the throne” on December 4th named legalisation as one of its priorities.
The existence of companies like Tweed, which obtained a stockmarket listing in 2014—long before Mr Trudeau, a tattooed former snowboarding instructor, looked likely to become prime minister—suggests that Canada’s transition from remedial to recreational pot will be smooth. It probably won’t be. “It’s going to be a lot harder to implement than you think,” said Lewis Koski, until recently the director of marijuana enforcement in Colorado, to a Canadian news agency. Colorado is one of four American states to have legalised the drug. Canada, likely to be the first large country to take that step, faces bigger obstacles.
Its legal pot industry got its start in 2001, after courts ruled that sufferers from epilepsy, AIDS, cancer and other ailments had a constitutional right to light up. The federal government of the time, led by Mr Trudeau’s Liberal Party, developed a hybrid system to supply and regulate it. The health ministry acted as dealer and doctor, certifying patients and selling marijuana to them at a subsidised price of C$5 a gram. One company, Prairie Plant Systems, was the ministry’s only supplier. Patients could grow their own, with a licence.
Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, who replaced the Liberals in 2006, abhorred narcotics but couldn’t close the medical-marijuana industry. Instead, they privatised it. Under rules that took effect in April 2014,…