Pubdate: Tue, 18 Apr 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Margaret Wente
Page: A11
Referenced: Cannabis Act:


Legalizing pot is trickier than it looks, and the Prime Minister might
soon be wondering if the hassle is worth the price

Justin Trudeau's vow to legalize marijuana - made without much
thinking, one suspects - was one of his signature campaign promises.
It was intended to brand his party as progressive, youthful and
enlightened. And the time seemed right. Most Canadians agree that it's
time to make it legal.

But when the government unveiled its long-awaited legislation - on the
eve of a long weekend - our hip Prime Minister was nowhere in sight.
He left the job to a bunch of hatchet-faced ministers, who grimly
assured us that this was going to be all about law and order and harm
reduction, not fun. Clearly, the government hoped that everyone would
get distracted by the holiday and move on.

Legalizing pot is trickier than it looks. Some of the benefits have
been wildly overstated and some of the consequences are unintended.
Take, for example, the Liberals' blithe assurance that tough new laws
will, if anything, reduce the availability of pot to youth. This ain't
gonna happen. It hasn't happened in Colorado and it won't happen here.
Nor is it easy to believe that all those new laws will be vigorously
enforced. Do you really think the cops, who barely have the resources
to fight drug crime now, will waste their time busting teenagers for

As for the black market, it will change but it will not disappear. Not
everyone will be willing to fork over the high prices (to be
determined) that will be charged in the legal market. The higher the
price, the greater the opportunity for illegal suppliers to grow their
market share. "If people can save significant amounts of money, then
they will," says security and crime expert Christian Leuprecht, who is
a professor at the Royal Military College and Queen's University.
Consider contraband cigarettes, which now account for a whopping 30
per cent of the Ontario market. Why would pot be any different?

Marijuana costs peanuts to produce. But in the United States, sky-high
taxes and onerous regulations make legal pot vastly more expensive
than the illegal stuff. That may not matter to well-heeled casual
users, but it matters a great deal to downmarket folks, who make up a
large part of the consumer base. In Oregon, illegal marijuana still
accounts for more than 35 per cent of the market. "The new system has
clearly not replaced or even threatened, corner dealers either in
Washington or Colorado," Tom James wrote in The Atlantic. Meanwhile,
Uruguay - another poster-country for legalization - has become a major
dope distribution hub for South America.

Another lucrative business for the black market is export sales. A
large amount of Colorado pot is sold illegally to neighbouring states.
Canada's already robust illegal export business could get a
significant boost too, Prof. Leuprecht says. "It is naive to believe
all our dope will stay here." He wonders how many friends that will
make us south of the border.

The provinces are not happy about all this, and for good reason. It's
they - along with municipalities and local police forces - that will
bear the burden of enforcement, regulation, extra health-care costs
and public-safety campaigns. It will be up to them to figure out
distribution networks, age of majority and how to do roadside safety
checks. (The only safety check currently on offer is a saliva test
that doesn't work yet.) The feds haven't promised one new penny for
any of it, and enforcement could be uneven, to say the least.

There will be winners, though. The biggest winners will be the current
incumbents in the business. Despite the fantasies of nostalgic hippies
and pot libertarians, there will be no room in the market for
artisanal growers or idealistic mom-and-pop pot shops. They won't be
able to compete. Waiting in the wings are well-capitalized investors
who are poised to set up massive grow-ops and sophisticated retail and
mail-order chains, with the expertise and lawyers to help them through
all the hoops that governments devise. Many of these pot pioneers are
intimately familiar with the workings of government, having been in it
themselves. As in the United States, they will work closely with
politicians and bureaucrats to make sure the regulations are as
advantageous and market-friendly to themselves as possible.

The road to legalization is paved with good intentions - and also
massive potholes. With more urgent matters on his plate, Mr. Trudeau
might well be wondering whether the hassle is worth the price.
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