Pubdate: Thu, 22 Oct 2015
Source: Georgia Straight, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2015 The Georgia Straight
Author: Travis Lupick


Cannabis Proponents Argue That Legal Marijuana Sales Could Rake in 
Billions for the Government

The Liberals' October 19 victory over the tough-on-crime 
Conservatives prompted a succinct reaction from the unofficial leader 
of Canada's marijuana-reform movement.

"Holy smokes," Jodie Emery said in a telephone interview. "We were 
all joking about how activists are out of a job. Mission 
accomplished. Now what?"

In his campaign for prime minister, Liberal party leader Justin 
Trudeau promised his government would fully legalize and regulate the 
sale and consumption of recreational cannabis. That pledge went 
significantly further than NDP leaderThomas Mulcair's plan to 
decriminalize the possession of small amounts of pot. While 
decriminalization leaves supply to the black market, Trudeau insisted 
Canada should regulate cannabis in ways similar to how the country 
handles other controlled substances, such as alcohol and tobacco.

"It is time that Canada adjusted to the reality that controlling and 
regulating marijuana is a way of both protecting our kids, protecting 
the public, and ensuring that we are not financing gangs to millions 
and millions of dollars," Trudeau told the Straight at an August 19 
campaign stop in Vancouver.

Now, Emery said, there are a thousand questions about how that will happen.

"What kind of system are we going to have?" she asked. "Now it really 
comes down to the details....But right away, they have to stop 
arresting people. The first step has to be an immediate 
decriminalization-type system where nobody is arrested for possession anymore."

In March, Trudeau told CKNW Radio that a Liberal government would 
begin by decriminalizing marijuana "in a very rapid fashion". That 
requires removing cannabis from the Controlled Drugs and Substances 
Act, which would save a lot of people from negative interactions with 
police. From 2003 to 2012, the B.C. Ministry of Justice recorded 
charging 44,522 people for crimes related to cannabis. (Though it 
might be further down the road, Trudeau has also said a Liberal 
government would be "looking into" how it might "overturn previous 
convictions" for crimes related to marijuana.)

Exactly what comes next is less certain, but a 38-page Liberal party 
draft "policy paper" dated January 2013 provides many hints.

It recommends marijuana be sold in retail storefronts, perhaps 
similar to those already operating in Vancouver. That document 
repeatedly emphasizes a legitimate marijuana industry should be 
heavily regulated. It points to tobacco and alcohol sales as 
examples, noting there are strict rules for how those products are 
supplied, sold, and advertised.

It also analyzes American states that have legalized cannabis such as 
Washington, and acknowledges a number of issues with which those 
jurisdictions have struggled.

"To be successful and prevent organized crime from maintaining a 
black market, the price of legal marijuana must be lower than it is 
now," it reads. "At the same time, the product's quality must be at 
least as good - if not better."

As the owner of a number of Vancouver dispensaries, Don Briere 
conceded he stands to gain a lot from Trudeau's plan. "We were 
dancing in the streets," he recalled of election night. But Briere 
argued people who have nothing to do with pot also stand to benefit.

He explained that while he's paid federal GST on weed sold through 
his dispensaries, he hasn't paid PST to the province. That's because 
authorities consider cannabis sold through Vancouver storefronts to 
be medicinal, and medications are exempt from PST. Briere said if a 
new Liberal government permits the sale of recreational marijuana, 
those sales would be subject to PST, and that would translate into 
millions of dollars in new money for the provinces.

"I alone have paid over $200,000 in GST on marijuana," he said. 
"Hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of time, and we'll 
continue to add to that."

In the Liberals' policy paper, it's calculated that legalizing 
marijuana will bring in $4 billion in government revenue each year. 
In addition, an older special senate committee report, from 2002, 
estimates between $300 and $500 million spent on law enforcement and 
the justice system annually could be saved by legalizing cannabis. 
Meanwhile, the Liberals project implementing a new regulatory scheme 
will carry a price tag of just $65 million over five years.

In a telephone interview, Joyce Murray, the re-elected Liberal MP for 
Vancouver Quadra, was reluctant to predict what tangible form legal 
marijuana sales might take. She said the initial emphasis will be on 
consultation and discussions with the provinces and municipal governments.

"What's important is the principles," she said. "And the principles 
are to prevent under-age access to marijuana as well as to stabilize 
the safety of the product."

Dan Werb is director of the International Centre for Science in Drug 
Policy and the lead author of an August 2015 report that summarized 
existing research related to marijuana use and the consequences of 
proposed regulations. He noted legalizing cannabis can lead to 
increases of reported use among youth, but emphasized that's not an 
inevitable outcome.

"From a public health standpoint, look to the successes we've had 
with tobacco regulation," he said. "We've seen an incremental 
decrease in the use of tobacco among young people. And I think that 
is a responsible framework to use."

Emery warned that Trudeau hasn't acted on the marijuana file yet.

She stressed that a number of players will now be jockeying for 
influence over how new regulations take shape. She said those could 
include reform advocates, health watchdogs, industry stakeholders, 
and representatives and lobbyists for potential competitors to 
recreational marijuana such as pharmaceutical corporations and beer 
and liquor retailers.

Emery also emphasized that today, police across Canada still have the 
authority arrest anybody caught with a joint.

"The Harper legacy of prohibition will continue for some time," she 
said. "And now the Liberals will have to make sure they don't over-regulate."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom