Pubdate: Mon, 19 Jun 2017
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2017 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Malcolm G. Bird
Page: A7


THE Trudeau government is set on legalizing marijuana by the summer of
2018. While they will enjoy the political payoff of appearing
progressive on this matter, all of the associated problems and the
logistics of doing so will fall on the shoulders of the provincial
governments and their civic counterparts.

I suggest the Manitoba provincial government draw lessons from the
last time an illegal substance was legalized following Prohibition in
the late 1920s, as well as from the current public health efforts to
eliminate tobacco use in Canada as a means to guide their policy on

Most critically, I urge the government to please remember that there
are strong correlations between how a drug or a particular indulgence
(such as gambling) is made available to the public and the propensity
for individuals to indulge in it and, as a result of such indulgences,
the negative health and social outcomes associated with its use.

And, as I'm sure the Pallister government is well aware, along with
Manitoba's families, all costs associated with the (mis)use of
marijuana will be borne by the provincial state. They should make
acquiring recreational marijuana expensive and difficult.

To start, I suggest the province only permit selling recreational
marijuana in government liquor stores, as they have the secure
infrastructure in place to deal with a drug with narcotic properties.
They have well-trained and professional staff, and secure logistical
facilities to ensure it is distributed in a socially responsible manner.

This will eliminate the potential enormous political problem of
licensing and determining where

(and when) dispensaries will be permitted to open and operate. It will
also eliminate the possibility of organized criminal elements
establishing and operating dispensaries, as has been occurring in
other parts of the country.

I also suggest the government not only control the retail end, but the
wholesale as well. Recreational marijuana should be sold as a "store
brand" in plain packaging and only offer a few different types

T- perhaps call them Marijuana 1, Marijuana 2, etc. This will prevent
manufacturers from developing and promoting through advertising
campaigns, specific brands of marijuana. "Store brands" are more
profitable for retailers, partly because they gain more control over
the manufacture and distribution process, and cut out supplier and
wholesaler middlemen. All marijuana products should be kept out of
sight of the public (much like tobacco products today) and the
dispensary located in the far back corner of the stores.

As the sole wholesaler in the province, the government, through
Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries (MLL), will be able to drive hard
bargains with manufacturers, preserving higher profit margins for the
government. Of course, there must also be significant taxes imposed on
it, but these, in and of themselves, will not be sufficient as the
government will also want to profit from the distribution of the product.

Further restricting the government's ability to raise revenue from
this product is the fact that the real and nominal price of marijuana
has dropped substantially over the last 25 years: a gram of pot in my
high school in the 1990s cost $15, while a gram today costs less than
$10 on the illegal market.

The illegal market needs to be eliminated. Contrary to popular belief,
legalization will require an increase in police and legal efforts to
stamp out the black market. When government liquor commissions took
over distribution, bootleggers had to be eliminated or they would
undercut the state's monopoly on sales. In a number of U.S. states
that have legalized marijuana, the unregulated and untaxed segment
continues to be substantial.

Policies will need to be developed to allow the police to determine
which pot has been legally procured and which has not; perhaps there
will have to be rules regarding the packaging of marijuana and
punishment/seizure for unverifiable weed? (Since the federal
legislation will permit individual Canadians to grow their own
marijuana plants at home this will make verifying legally procured
marijuana considerably more difficult). These additional costs of
enforcement, not surprisingly, will fall onto the provincial and civic

Edible marijuana should not be sold. Eating marijuana substantially
increases its potency, and often it is sold in child-attractive
products such as brownies, gummy bears and the like, substantially
increasing the potential for accidental consumption. If the province
does decide to sell edibles, it should offer only one type with an
established dosage amount. Stern warning labels, with graphic photos
(much like cigarette packages) should accompany all marijuana products.

The province should establish a permit and accounting system to track
who has purchased marijuana. Early Canadian liquor boards required
permits and tracked individual purchases, and I suggest the MLL
emulate this policy. Such a practice would allow the government to
determine who is purchasing marijuana, and if individual sales could
be tracked to original purchases this would aid in preventing
marijuana ending up in the hands of minors. Persistent violators who
resell marijuana, for instance, could have their permits revoked.
Charge an annual permit fee of, say, $50.

I would also follow the advice of the Canadian Medical Association and
restrict the purchase age to 21. Do not permit any advertising or
promotion of marijuana anywhere in the province.

I make these suggestions as a way for the Manitoba government to make
the best of a very difficult situation. Consumption of marijuana will
likely rise, as will the associated costs of dealing with its effects
on individuals. Like many issues in Canadian federalism, this is a
classic one whereby the federal government is wholly detached from the
political and policy reality of implementing the policy, and the
related costs associated with it.

Make purchasing and consuming marijuana difficult and cumbersome so as
to dissuade as many people as possible from consuming it and, in doing
so, as a means of limiting the political and financial costs
associated with this misguided policy. If the federal government
doesn't like Manitoba's course of action, challenge them to take you
to court to make consuming pot easier.

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Malcolm G. Bird is an associate professor of political science at the 
University of Winnipeg.
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