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


THE federal government is set on legalizing marijuana by summer 2018.
While the Liberals will enjoy the political payoff of appearing
progressive, all the problems and the logistics of legalizing pot will
fall on the shoulders of the provincial governments.

There are strong correlations between how a drug or an indulgence,
such as gambling, is made available to the public and the propensity
for individuals to indulge in it, and the negative health and social
outcomes associated with its use.

In other words, it matters how we legalize marijuana, not just that we
legalize it.

Provincial governments might want to draw lessons from the last time
an illegal substance - alcohol - was legalized, following Prohibition
in the late 1920s, as well as insights from current public-health
efforts to eliminate tobacco use.

For starters, it might make sense to make acquiring recreational
marijuana reasonably expensive and somewhat difficult.

All provincial governments (except Alberta, which eliminated its
liquor board) should consider selling recreational marijuana only in
government liquor stores, because they have the secure infrastructure
to deal with a drug with narcotic properties. They also have
well-trained staff and secure logistical facilities to ensure it's
distributed in a socially responsible manner. This will eliminate the
potentially enormous political problem of licensing and determining
where (and when) dispensaries will be permitted. It will also prevent
organized criminal elements from operating dispensaries.

Most critically, governments should control the retail end of
marijuana and the wholesale side. They should sell recreational
marijuana as a store brand in plain packaging and offer only a few
types. This will prevent manufacturers from developing and promoting
brands of pot through advertising.

Store brands are more profitable for retailers largely because they
gain more control over manufacturing and cut out supplier middlemen.
As the sole wholesaler in a province, liquor boards will be able to
drive hard bargains with manufacturers.

There must also be significant taxes imposed on marijuana. But taxes
will not earn significant revenues, as the government must also cover
the costs associated with its (mis)use.

Government revenues from the sale of pot will already be restricted
given the decline in pot prices over the past 25 years: on the illegal
market, a gram of pot in the 1990s cost $15, while today it costs less
than $10.

Contrary to popular belief, the legalization of marijuana will require
an increase in police and legal efforts to stamp out the black market.
When government liquor commissions took over alcohol distribution,
bootleggers had to be eliminated or they would undercut the state's
monopoly on sales and its ability to control how it was sold and consumed.

Provincial governments might want to draw lessons from the last time
an illegal substance - alcohol - was legalized, following Prohibition
in the late 1920s

Policies will also need to be developed to allow police to determine
when pot has been legally procured and when it has not. Since federal
legislation will permit Canadians to grow marijuana at home, verifying
legally procured marijuana will be considerably more difficult.

Provinces should also be wary about offering edible pot. Ingesting
marijuana substantially increases its potency and it's often sold in
child-attractive products such as brownies, gummy bears and the like,
substantially increasing the potential for accidental consumption -
including by children. If provinces decide to sell edibles, they
should ensure that dosage amounts per item are consistent between
products and are presented in a way that's easy for consumers to understand.

The provinces will also need to establish a permit-and-purchase
tracking system. If individual sales can be tracked to original
purchases and purchasers, this would aid in preventing marijuana from
ending up in the hands of minors. Persistent violators who resell
marijuana could have their permits revoked.

Governments should consider restricting the purchase age to 21, as
recommended by many medical practitioners.

And in order to limit consumption and normalization of its use, there
should be no advertising or promotion of marijuana.

Provincial governments must make the best of a very difficult
situation. Consumption of marijuana will likely rise, as will the
costs of dealing with its effects.

Like many issues in Canadian federalism, this is a classic case of the
federal government being wholly detached from the reality of
implementing policy and the real costs associated with it.

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Malcolm Bird teaches political science at the University of Winnipeg and 
is an expert adviser with
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