Pubdate: Wed, 16 Dec 2015
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2015 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Michael Den Tandt
Page: A4


OK, I' ll say it: What was she smoking?

Except that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's vision of a state-run
monopoly on the fragrant weed, courtesy of the Liquor Control Board of
Ontario, is quite plausible, given the logic of imminent legalization.
What becomes readily apparent, as the federal Liberals continue to
find their footing, is that the idea of legalization of marijuana has
never been deeply examined.

Legalization was a terrific attention-getter in 2013, and a powerful
emblem of change. That worked for Justin Trudeau two years ago. It
highlighted his youth and cool. It made Stephen Harper and his sternly
anti-pot front bench look like fussy old bores - Sister Matilda,
waggling a disapproving finger at the rambunctious kids at the back of
the bus.

But that was then. Scratch beneath the surface and the file is rife
with complex problems - social, legal and political. Members of the
snowboard-and-munchie set, consequently, may have to wait a bit before
they can proudly present themselves, bong in hand, at their local
liquor store, and order a gram of what we used to call the Polio,
which removes one's ability to stand up.

Which is, of course, as good a place as any to begin. What
self-respecting stoner would be caught dead buying marijuana in a
state-owned store, with the government's blessing? At least half of
pot's appeal, when I was a teenager, was its illegality. This was
something one did furtively, off the books. It was a middle digit
raised defiantly toward authority. The actual taste, not to mention
the smell, I'm sure most people found appalling, and still do.

Marijuana use is, of course, more socially acceptable now than it was
in the early 1980s. My sense though, from speaking about this to young
people, is that counter-culture is still part of the cachet. Setting
medicinal marijuana dispensaries to one side, therefore, it seems this
future state-owned enterprise is ripe for bootlegging. Baby boomers of
the Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix era may enjoy a subtle frisson as
they watch their B.C. Bud get bagged alongside the evening's Pinot
Noir. But it's difficult to see how teenagers - for whom pot
acquisition was supposed to become more difficult, under a new
regulatory regime - can be prevented from continuing to obtain it from
wherever they do now.

Those sources, as the Liberals have correctly pointed out for years,
are everywhere. The price of illegal pot cannot help but be well below
the LCBO standard, due to the lack of taxation and, let's face it, the
absence of public service wage rates and a benefit plan for grow op
staff. All of this raises questions of enforcement, which itself will
have a cost. State-sanctioned grow ops will in effect compete with
mom-and-pop outfits operating off the books. Will there be criminal
sanctions for bootleggers and, if so, what will those be?

And there's another aspect to this that is potentially far more
problematic, as the state of Colorado has discovered. That is
marijuana-impaired driving. Colorado began the process of legalization
for medical use in 2006, and since 2013 has implemented full
legalization. Data gathered by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug
Trafficking Area, established to monitor the effects of legalization,
shows a dramatic increase in impaired driving due to marijuana. In
2014, according to a report released in September, the rise in
pot-related road deaths was 32 per cent. From 2010 to 2014, the rise
in marijuana-related traffic deaths was 92 per cent, compared with an
eight per cent increase in all Colorado traffic fatalities over the
same period.

The difficulty with pot and impaired driving, very simply, is that
unlike drunk driving, there is no quick way to test for it. The
determination usually occurs after the fact, with a blood sample.
There's also no standard "dose" of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), after
which a person can neatly be deemed impaired, because different people
react to the drug in different ways. One person's catatonic slumber (I
speak from past experience, here) might be another's mild buzz.

This raises the question of what's to prevent our aforementioned
nostalgic boomers from sparking up a fatty in the Volvo in the LCBO
parking lot, then driving home? More broadly: If smoking pot is legal
but doing so before or while driving is not, how can this be enforced?
Also, how will regulators establish the length of any post-puff
"cooling-off " period, given the drug's residual effects last longer
in some than in others?

In his mandate letter to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Prime
Minister Trudeau put legalizing marijuana sixth on the to-do list,
well down from dealing with physician-assisted death, and convening an
inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women. Overhauling
criminal-justice sentencing is fourth on the list.

Each of those reforms, particularly the first two, will require
intense focus and consume a great deal of political oxygen, and
capital. Given this, and the sheer thorniness of marijuana
legalization, it should be no surprise if this gets shoved to the back
burner. Ganja liberalization activists: Best not hold your breath.
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MAP posted-by: Matt