Pubdate: Wed, 20 Sep 2017
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2017 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Mark Goliger
Page: A7


AS recreational cannabis becomes legal nationally on July 1, Canadians
are faced with tremendous opportunity and risk. Our country is
essentially rolling back a long-existing illegal trade to facilitate a
legal, regulated market. The purpose, as the federal Liberal platform
says, is: "to ensure that we keep marijuana out of the hands of
children and the profits out of the hands of criminals, we will
legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana."

With much yet to be figured out, the following focuses on the issue of
how to implement retail distribution, which rests with each province.

The primary question we are addressing here is whether to create a
government monopoly. Many have the impression that the only
alternative is a Wild West model of mom-and-pop shops multiplying
unrestrainedly, without regard for safety or risk and harm reduction.
This black or white comparison is oversimplified.

It is a balanced approach that will resolve the issues we face and
that monopolies simply cannot fix. Monopolies may actually contribute
additional issues such as higher prices, leaving the door open to
increased competition from cheaper illegal suppliers, online and elsewhere.

Rarely, if ever, do monopolies facilitate normal market forces in
solving important problems such as providing least-cost access to
product, without unnecessary delays and to a wide geographic range of
people. Economic opportunities to multiple participants in the
cannabis business are lost. Moreover, a government monopoly diminishes
the opportunity for Indigenous economic participation and benefit.

There is, however, a crucial role for government to play in creating a
comprehensive regulatory and legislative framework that it can enforce
with rigorous safety-related testing infrastructure. Competitors who
can meet these demands and requirements may then be screened for

As Manitobans know well, the province is founded on successful
business, from early Indigenous trading prior to European arrival to
subsequent innovators such as Ashdown Hardware and onwards to modern
national and global leaders such as Great-West Life, the Richardsons,
Nygard and, most recently, an exciting group of machine-learning
companies. As it has always been, private-industry involvement is a
key to finding solutions to many of the questions a monopoly simply
can't address.

We believe that the best way to continue to advance the social,
justice and security concerns of Manitobans in time for recreational
cannabis becoming legal is through the development of an innovative
and competitive private-sector model. In our case, we are willing to
risk tens of millions of dollars in investment. Although we are the
leader in our field now, we would not be the only company that would
eventually qualify.

Profoundly relevant to this debate is that there is already a
30-year-mature cannabis business. The federally appointed Task Force
on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation commented that "the illegal
trade of marijuana reaps an estimated $7 billion in income annually
for organized crime."

In the medicinal cannabis world we know there are many blends and
combinations of cannabinoids with varying chemical attributes that
affect people differently. The current recreational black market has
millions of customers with established buying patterns and
sophisticated tastes based on buyer choice and low pricing.

What would make these millions of consumers switch from current buying
patterns without product variety, affordability or availability? As
one paper said of Ottawa's position, "inadequate supply of marijuana
from authorized vendors could play into the hands of illegal dealers,
creating a gaping hole in legal sales." None of this achieves any of
the government's goals for legalization.

The police can't magically erase the black market. After three decades
of the failed war on drugs, it's time to show new leadership.

Many legal companies - such as ours - have been acting within the law
and in good faith for years under the Access to Cannabis for Medical
Purposes Regulations. These private companies have diligently serviced
legitimate medical needs legally.

We are a longtime leader of a doctor-led clinical model for medical
treatment with 10 locations nationally, including in Winnipeg. As a
national, publicly traded company, our ownership disclosure eliminates
room for organized crime.

If you look at the history of government-controlled liquor
distribution and how rampant youth consumption has always been, you're
compelled to naturally dismiss the absurd pretense that government
monopoly equals absolute safety.

As already discussed above, the government monopoly model may, in
fact, play right into the hands of organized crime.

If we are to achieve the stated objectives for legalization, what
really provides the solution at retail is a balanced approach. For
this reason, we advocate strong government regulations and legislation
and a private-market model that allows experienced, safe,
well-governed, -financed and -disclosed companies to compete for
consumer demand in the recreational cannabis market.

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Mark Goliger is chief executive officer of National Access Cannabis.
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MAP posted-by: Matt