Pubdate: Wed, 21 Jun 2017
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The London Free Press
Author: David Reevely
Page: 7


Canada's finance ministers met in Ottawa Monday to confront the
reality that if we want legal marijuana to displace the illegal kind,
they won't be able to tax it heavily, at the same time as Ottawa's
public-health authorities conferred on how to discourage people from
getting high at all.

"Our government's goals are clear: we want to keep criminal elements
out, and we want to keep cannabis out of the hands of children,"
Finance Minister Bill Morneau said, in a statement setting up the
ministers' meeting. "This will mean keeping taxes low, and working
together on an ongoing basis to ensure a coordinated approach."

Meanwhile, the health officials' goal is to nudge us away from using
marijuana even once it's legal. Ottawa's health board got local health
units' concerns about the remaining details of legalization Monday
night, which include the rules about "edibles" like pot cookies and
lollipops (they should be restricted tightly) and packages (they
should be as plain as possible, with health warnings and dosages
displayed prominently).

The case for restricting edibles is fairly clear: the health unit
notes that in Colorado, which legalized cannabis in 2014, some
children got sick after consuming poorly labelled or carelessly stored
food laced with marijuana products.

The case for restricting packaging isn't as obvious.

"Graphic product labelling has been required for tobacco products
since 2000 and is recognized as a best practice," the health unit
says. But why should marijuana be like tobacco and not alcohol? In
fairness, the health unit would prefer to treat alcohol more like
tobacco, but we don't, and there should be some reason to our approach.

The situation's messy. The federal government is moving marijuana
toward easier access after decades of moving tobacco, alcohol and even
junk food toward prohibition. We just don't have very much practice
loosening rules rather than tightening them.

Warnings on cigarette packs that become ever starker and more
gruesome. There are bans on advertising, public-health messages about
the many dangers of smoking, rules requiring retailers hide their
stock and widening bans on where you can smoke.

Crummy food is moving in the same direction, with public-health
warnings, calorie counts on menus, junk-food restrictions in schools
and sugar taxes in a few jurisdictions.

With alcohol, our governments have conflicts of interest, especially
in Ontario, where alcohol taxes and the LCBO's profits make up a
meaningful percentage of the government's revenues. So although the
government will warn you that drinking is bad for you, it'll also
advertise alcohol to you and make buying it as convenient as possible.

Taxing stuff is the most effective tool for discouraging people from
buying legal things. Even so, we've learned that there is such a thing
as too much tax on tobacco, which was being smuggled into Canada by
the boatload about 15 years ago until governments slashed cigarette
taxes. Cigarettes have well-established legal distribution systems and
yet a dangerously large number of smokers were willing to go outside
the law to save a few dollars a pack.

With pot, we have established illegal distribution systems that police
officers have spent their careers failing to dismantle. We're hoping
legal ones will replace them. But restrict pot too tightly with taxes
and limits on sales and as Morneau implies, the dealers will still be
more competitive than legit channels.

We won't put dealers out of business with lower quality, more
expensive, less convenient products any more than we did it with law
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