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At the end of 2022, the Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC) claimed to have captured 58% of the cannabis illegal economy after four years of its existence. Just over three years ago, the SQDC proclaimed 66% as a realistic goal for their market share. How is it then that nearly half of the sales of this now legal drug come from the illegal economy and ultimately benefit long-standing organized crime forces?
An ongoing strike over nearly the past eight months affecting about a quarter of the 90 SQDC branches could provide part of the answer. Lucas Gizard, an employee in one of these stores and a delegate for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), believes that the government's stubborn refusal to concede to giving their workforce enough of a wage for adequate living conditions is causing consumers to consider "the illegal market or the grey market" as "really more advantageous."
He explains that "it's a shame because there is less control over the quality of the product. We don't know who it's going too either. It's a shame that we're adding to the benefits of organized crime." In addition, the SQDC has been losing more than it would have earned in the past several months by paying its employees the $21 an hour wage they are asking for.
According to Gizard, this wage demand represents an expense of $2 million, compared to a very conservative estimate of $10 million in losses in the last six months for the Crown corporation. "Out of $220 million a year [in the SQDC budget], it's really tiny." Yet the employee demand is lower than what the government currently pays an SAQ advisor ($25/hr) or a customer service official.
This general attitude of the CAQ government towards SQDC workers is far from isolated. The CAQ government's negotiations with public sector workers this coming year won't be easy as they face a united front of unions—the first in decades. It's a trend that can be observed in Europe too with the current large protest movements rocking France and England. Comparable actions have been seen in other parts of Canada too, such as in Ontario where public sector unions have been fighting wage suppression.
Despite what many commentators would have people believe, Lucas Gizard explains that "it's not our fault [the return of the black market] because to pay our rent and our food, we need a certain salary. We don't want to do that. We had perfectly legal leverage, the problem is that the government doesn't want to say that little three letter word 'Yes'. All we're doing is struggling to have a decent life in North America."
In the face of extreme inflation, Gizard adds, "they'd like to raise [our wage by] not even 3%. That's not possible. We have to at least eat. So either we have the choice of starving to death or we have the choice of asking the government and when the government doesn't agree, we are forced to go on strike because there are no other ways that understand."
"I think there's bad faith from the beginning," Gizard argues. "It's really ideological. Their mentality, it's a very neoliberal and capitalist thing. They're trying to save only with humans, not with machines, not with the delivery service."