Pubdate: Mon, 07 Mar 2016
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Jesse Kline
Page: A8


The last time the Liberals proposed decriminalizing marijuana, we 
faced the real prospect of being penalized by our neighbours to the 
south. Now it seems as though our American friends have a burgeoning 
legal marijuana market of their own.

Recent figures show that cannabis sales in Colorado alone (which 
legalized the substance two years ago) topped U.S.$996.2 million 
($1.37 billion) in 2015, providing the state with $135 million in 
taxes. Even in California, where recreational pot remains technically 
illegal, legal medical marijuana sales were also estimated to be 
worth close to $1 billion last year. A recent report from ArcView 
Market Research estimated that as more states reform their drug laws, 
the industry could be worth $22 billion nationally by 2020.

It should therefore come as no surprise that so many Canadians want a 
piece of what is sure to be a lucrative market, now that the Liberals 
have pledged the legalize marijuana and the Supreme Court of Canada 
has struck down the ban on medical cannabis patients growing their own bud.

Back in December, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne suggested that her 
government-owned liquor control board would be well suited to get 
into the drug trade: "It makes sense to me that the liquor 
distribution mechanism that we have in place - the LCBO - is very 
well-suited to putting in place the social responsibility aspects 
that would need to be in place."

The unions representing workers in British Columbia's liquor stores 
also want the ability to sell weed with their wine. "Liquor stores 
provide the most strictly controlled system for accessing a 
controlled substance, and are best suited for the retailing of 
non-medical marijuana. We have an effective warehousing, retail and 
distribution system in place, there is no need to reinvent the 
wheel," said Stephanie Smith, president of the B.C. Columbia 
Government and Service Employees' Union.

More recently, two large drugstore chains, London Drugs and Shoppers 
Drug Mart, also expressed interest in selling medical marijuana. "We 
believe that it would be distributed - and should be distributed - 
through pharmacies, where pharmacies can help guide people to use 
this on a medical basis," said a representative of Vancouver-based 
London Drugs.

They have a point: I see no reason why people suffering from chronic 
pain should not be able to get their hash from the same place they 
buy their codeine. Yet it seems to me that the only thing worse than 
buying pot from a shady-looking guy in a poorly lit parking lot would 
be standing in a long line at the drugstore, only to be told by an 
overworked pharmacist that it's going to take 20 minutes to slap a 
label on the dime bag hanging on the shelf behind him.

But that's no reason not to let them try. There would surely be a 
benefit for many people suffering from debilitating pain to fill 
their prescriptions at a neighbourhood pharmacy, rather than have to 
wait for a licensed producer to deliver the medication, as is 
currently the case. If the pharmacies were able to compete with 
existing medical marijuana providers and dispensaries, as well as any 
new distributors that spring up, consumers be able to decide what 
works best for them.

But we all know this is not what the drugstore chains are saying when 
they say they would be well suited to distribute cannabis. Anyone who 
has ever filled a prescription in this country knows that pharmacies 
are not very efficient at selling things, as the system largely seems 
to be set up to ensure doctors have a steady supply of patients and 
drug companies can charge insurance companies, rather than bill 
people directly. This is surely the system pharmacies want to see 
continue as medicinal, and recreational, cannabis becomes more 
accessible - i.e., one designed specifically to limit competition.

And we all know that Wynne doesn't think the LCBO should be 
distributing cannabis because of its ability to compete with Joe's 
Pot Shop or 7-Eleven. She wants it to have a monopoly like it does 
with liquor sales - small businesses and consumers be damned.

Yet if our experience with alcohol has taught us anything, it's that 
restricting sales to a government-run monopoly or a corporate 
oligopoly is not in consumers' best interests. Indeed, the only 
reason provinces have so much control over alcohol sales is because 
of the piecemeal system of prohibition we had, in which some 
provinces allowed alcohol sales, but other did not. It's a historical 
aberration we would be wise not to repeat.

When coming up with a system for legalizing marijuana, the federal 
government should follow the examples of U.S. states like Colorado 
and Washington, which allow private businesses to sell pot and have 
seen numerous innovations in what products are available to 
consumers. If B.C. Liquor Stores and Rexall pharmacies want to 
compete with them, all the better. But the system of distribution 
should be based on free market principles, not a restrictive, 
monopolistic distribution system modelled after the Soviet Union, or the LCBO.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom