Pubdate: Tue, 12 Sep 2017
Source: Guardian, The (CN PI)
Copyright: 2017 The Guardian, Charlottetown Guardian Group Incorporated
Author: Chantal Hebert
Page: A11


Ontario stands to set the tone for much of the rest of the country in
rules, regulations

Canada is edging closer to the July 2018 target date for the
legalization of marijuana in a haze of political smoke.

With every new development, the gap between the political narrative
attending the initiative and its actual implementation is harder to

Take the federal government's talking points. They have greatly
evolved since Justin Trudeau was campaigning on university campuses in
the last election campaign. Logic has not always benefited from that

To hear the prime minister these days, the point of the policy is to
make it harder for minors to buy marijuana. Clearly, Canada is making
its peace with marijuana the better to fight it. According to Trudeau,
that will be achieved by imposing stiffer penalties on those who sell
weed illegally and/or drive under the influence.

There is a commitment to government-funded public education campaigns
to drive home the health risks associated with marijuana. Fair enough,
but those are all measures a health-conscious federal government could
have undertaken without jumping through the hoops of legalizing the

The oft-missing link in the Liberal talking points is how Trudeau's
stated goal ties in with the legal sale of marijuana.

Proponents of the plan talk of the need to replace a thriving
underground market with a regulated one. The calculation, or at least
the hope, is that legal competition will accomplish what judicial
repression has so far failed to achieve.

But to do that one must be willing to use means on par with policy

In the federal/provincial division of labour, setting the legal
marijuana business on a competitive footing is left to the discretion
of individual provinces. It is a politically uncomfortable task for
which none is particularly enthusiastic.

Cue the government of Ontario. On Friday it became the first to come
up with a template to sell marijuana.

As Canada's largest province, Ontario stands to set the tone for much
of the rest of the country. Many of its sister provinces are still
seeking advice from experts and/or sounding out constituents.

Quebec, for instance, has yet to decide something as basic as whether
to apply the legal age to buy alcohol to marijuana.

Ontario is set to use age 19 for both categories.

But the Ontario blueprint falls well short of the purported goal of
driving those who sell weed illegally out of business.

If anything over the next few years, it stands to fatten the golden
goose that is the marijuana black market rather than kill it.

The plan is to establish a government monopoly on the selling of
marijuana. The LCBO would run the operation in stores distinct from
its liquor outlets. Ontario would open 80 pot shops by July 1, 2019,
and another 70 over the following year.

It would take a lot more than 150 outlets and quite a bit longer than
two years to flood the market with legal marijuana in a province the
size of Ontario.

For the sake of comparison, Colorado, with a population of less than
six million people, initially opened 136 venues for the purpose of
legally selling marijuana.

Ontario, with more than double that population and a larger territory,
is planning to offer little more than the same number. It is as if a
cheese artisan set out to drive Kraft out of business by setting up a
stall at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. At the same time Ontario
would clamp down on illegal storefront dispensaries.

Under the guise of creating a state-run monopoly, the province is
running the risk of creating more demand for the services of the very
people it purports to drive out of business.

Unless they have been living on another planet, the provincial and
federal politicians who are debating the upcoming legalization of
marijuana must be familiar with the omnipresence and the reach of the
underground market. And they must know that half-hearted measures tend
to yield costly failures.

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Chantal Hebert is a national affairs writer for Torstar Syndication Service.
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