Pubdate: Tue, 12 Sep 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Andre Picard
Page: A11


Ontario's puritanical plan to sell marijuana in sterile state-run
stores would be laughable if it was not a striking reminder that a)
with just nine months before legalization, there is still no
comprehensive plan in place and; b) foot-dragging legislators seem to
have lost sight of why cannabis needs to be legalized in the first

So here's a refresher: Prohibition does more harm than good; when you
prosecute people for possessing a commonly used substance, you make a
mockery of the law, you push otherwise law-abiding citizens to the
black market, saddle people with criminal records for no good reason,
waste the time and resources of police and the courts and forego tax

There are also health issues: You can reduce the potential harms of
marijuana consumption by regulating quality and potency, placing
reasonable restrictions on access (namely by young people) and
investing in public health and education campaigns.

If you want to address all those issues, you need thoughtful public
policies, beginning with making the purchase of legal cannabis as
simple as the purchase of illegal cannabis.

Ontario's approach - standalone cannabis stores that are essentially a
subsidiary of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) - along with
online sales - does no such thing.

State-controlled sale of cannabis, as with beer, wine and spirits, is
legitimate. Despite the perception the provincial Liberal government
is mollycoddling its public-sector unions, creating well-paying,
unionized jobs is a good thing. (If we're concerned about health,
let's not forget there are few things less healthy than precarious,
low-wage labour.)

The problem with Ontario's plan is that it will make buying cannabis
from "The Pot Store" (the precise name has not yet been decided) about
as appealing as getting an enema. Products - and we don't know what
varieties and formats will be available, or prices - will be kept
hidden and customers will have to order from a clerk who will retrieve
the shameful bounty from the back room.

This is a pathetic throwback to the era, not that long ago, when
Ontarians purchased wine and spirits in this furtive manner - filling
out a form and carrying out their bottle of evil spirits in a brown
paper bag. Now, you can actually browse, interact with knowledgeable
staff and make adult choices in The Beer Store and the LCBO. Adults
should be able to do the same in The Pot Store.

Ontario has also vowed to crack down on cannabis dispensaries, to shut
them down and prosecute. This, too, is a legitimate public policy -
theoretically. It's also a stupid one - practically.

The province plans to open 40 state-run cannabis stores next year, 80
by 2019 and 150 by 2020. This is clearly inadequate in a province
where there are 650 LCBO outlets. To pretend that online sales can
fill the void is spurious.

Instead of raiding dispensaries - of which there are at least 100 in
Toronto alone - and prosecuting the poor schmoes who work there
(remember, one of the main purposes of legalization is to end
pointless criminalization), government should be working to regulate
these stores. They should also be learning from them, because they
offer decent customer service and employ some impressive pot
sommeliers. Under the current plan, dispensaries' customers are more
likely to return to the black market than shop at granny's state-run
Pot Store.

Far more important than where cannabis will be sold is pricing and
legal limits for possession. There seems to be an unofficial consensus
that individuals should be able to legally hold 30 grams (an ounce in
the parlance of old-timers), the equivalent of about 40 joints,
depending on how you roll. In Canada, there are legal minimum prices
for alcohol and there will be for cannabis too, likely around $5 a
gram. (The price of low-quality "medical" marijuana currently.) But we
don't know how heavily pot will be taxed.

The possession and sale of marijuana has been illegal in Canada since
1923. Ending prohibition - which will take effect July 1, 2018 - is a
significant legal and social change and requires a lot of planning and
public policy decisions. The federal task force, chaired by Anne
McLellan, actually did a decent job of laying out the challenges and
fashioning a blueprint for action.

Legalization is a joint venture that requires action and leadership
from Ottawa and the provinces and territories and they have all been
far too slow to act. While it's easy to pick apart Ontario's pot-sales
plans, at least they're doing something. Moving forward, legislators
just have to learn to be a little flexible - dare we say, mellow - in
their approach.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt