Pubdate: Thu, 07 Jan 2016
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Tasha Kheiriddin
Page: A10


Will Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's promise to legalize pot go up in
smoke, or will he turn into an activist and try to convince other
countries to liberalize their drug laws, as well? That's the choice he
faces, if he doesn't want Canada to run afoul of its international

A government briefing note, obtained this week by the Canadian Press,
identified three major drug treaties that Canada would contravene if
Trudeau legalized marijuana. "All three require the criminalization of
possession and production of cannabis.=C2=85 As part of examining
legalization of cannabis possession and production, Canada will need
to explore how to inform the international community and will have to
take the steps needed to adjust its obligations under these

Trudeau may be popular, but when it comes to legalizing pot, selfies
may not be sufficiently persuasive. Yes, there are legalization
movements in Europe, as well as Latin and South America. Uruguay
legalized marijuana and Mexico's Supreme Court ruled in November 2015
that producing and consuming marijuana was a "human right." Five
American states will hold referenda on cannabis legalization in 2016,
potentially joining Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, where the
drug is now permitted. But as a whole, the world's governments are not
warm to weed and depending on who gets into the Oval Office next year,
Trudeau could get serious pushback on his plans.

For Trudeau, the question will be how much time he wants to devote to
pot versus other priorities - and how much political capital he is
willing to burn. He already has to contend with the provinces, whose
governments hold differing views on the subject and who ultimately
would be responsible for regulating the production, consumption and
sale of cannabis. But the real question Canadians should ask
themselves is: what's the motive here? Is it to respect Canadians'
choices and protect children, as Trudeau claims, or is there something
else at work?

If the goal is to stop throwing people in jail for possessing small
amounts of marijuana, Ottawa doesn't need to legalize it.
Decriminalization would achieve this, effective immediately. In 2014,
over 40,000 Canadians were arrested for simple marijuana possession,
up from 4,000 in 2004. Decriminalizing possession would mean those
users would not get a criminal record. Provinces would be free to
issue tickets, if they choose, but pot use would not be normalized and
the drug would not be easier to obtain - for kids or adults.

Legalization, however, changes the game. On a social level,
legalization would fully destigmatize cannabis consumption, by putting
it in the same category as tobacco and alcohol. Pot proponents will
say that's a good thing, especially when it comes to teens: since it
is no longer "forbidden," it might be less attractive and use among
minors might decline. Opponents will disagree: young people will still
see it as cool, perhaps even more so, because they think the person
championing its legalization, Trudeau, is cool, too. ( Hey, doesn't he
hang out on Google? And take kids to see Star Wars?)

But the major, undeniable impact of legalization is financial. Forget
fines gleaned from decriminalization: the tax revenue from legal pot
is the prize. To wit: in the first seven months of 2015, Colorado took
in $ 70 million in marijuana sales taxes, nearly double what it made
on alcohol. The amount far exceeded expectations, as well as taxes
generated the previous year, when cannabis was officially legalized.

Why the uptick? Social acceptance. In the words of Tyler Henson,
president of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, "I attribute
it to =C2=85 more and more people (being) comfortable with the legalizati
of marijuana.=C2=85 They don't see it as something that's bad for them." 
other words, they're using more - and that means more money for state
and local coffers.

Trudeau can deny it all he wants, but saying that Ottawa expects only
a "bit of revenue" from legalization that will be diverted into drug
education and rehab is laughable. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is
already salivating over the prospect of the province's liquor
monopoly, the LCBO, becoming a giant dispensary. Before long, the
province's newspapers could be stuffed with glossy inserts promoting
the Bud of the Week - and shovelling the revenue towards Ontario's
$10-billion deficit.

All the pro-pot advocates who think Trudeau and Wynne are so
progressive, should take a sober second look at their motives. If it
was about people growing ganja on their balcony or smoking the
occasional joint, they would decriminalize and stop there. They
wouldn't boost social acceptance of marijuana and they wouldn't risk
aggravating our international allies. But that wouldn't bring in a red
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