Pubdate: Sat, 23 Sep 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Page: F6


Why is Canada legalizing marijuana, and why does the move - if done
right - make sense? It's all about harm reduction. Smoking marijuana
has real health risks, particularly for young people. But the
long-standing ban on the sale of pot isn't addressing them. The drug
is widely available and widely used; according to the OECD, Canada has
the developed world's highest rate of youth pot use. Prohibition's
only real accomplishment is as an unintended industrial strategy,
fostering a multi-billion-dollar black market.

The federal government is ending the criminal ban on pot, but almost
everything that happens after that is up to the provinces. Each has to
strike a difficult balance: making pot available legally and widely,
thereby pushing out the black market, while simultaneously creating a
framework for discouraging the use and abuse of the drug, especially
among teenagers and young adults.

 From coast to coast, each province is likely to handle legalization
differently, and that's a good thing. One of federalism's benefits is
it lets the country run parallel experiments, so voters and
governments can discover what works best. The province that wins this
game is the one that shifts the most pot sales from the street to the
legal market - while simultaneously leading the country in lowering
marijuana use among young people.

It won't be easy, but it is possible. Two products with which
governments have a lot of experience point the way: Alcohol and
tobacco are the models for harm reduction.

Decades ago, alcohol prohibition was dropped in favour of legal sales.
That happened because, despite the dangers of drink, outlawing booze
gave rise to new and larger harms. Prohibition was a utopian approach:
It aimed at harm-eradication, but delivered harm-multiplication. It
has been replaced by a more realistic attempt at reducing harm through
legalization, regulation and education.

With the end of prohibition, organized crime left the booze business.
And while alcohol abuse remains a major health problem, its dangers
have been gradually reduced. For example, the rate of drunk driving in
Canada has fallen by more than two-thirds since 1989.

It's a similar story with cigarettes. Tobacco is addictive and smoking
is terrible for human health, yet adults can buy cigarettes at any
corner store. To discourage smoking, Canada uses a combination of
taxation, regulation, stigmatization and education. In 1965, fully 50
per cent of Canadians were smokers, according to Physicians for a
SmokeFree Canada. By 2011, despite the widespread availability of
cigarettes, the rate had fallen to just 17 per cent. In stark contrast
to pot use, Canada has the developed world's lowest rate of youth
smoking, according to the OECD.

The harms from tobacco and alcohol have not been eliminated, because
that's not a realistic goal. But they have been reduced, while further
reductions are always being sought.

Reasonable people can debate whether recreational marijuana is as bad
as drinking and smoking. But it's pretty clear that it has downsides
for human health, particularly when the humans in question are
children or young adults. Research shows that those most at risk from
marijuana use are under the age of 25, because their brains are still

Yet according to Statistics Canada, teens and young adults are more
likely than those over 25 to have used marijuana in the past year.

Canada's experience with alcohol and tobacco suggest that, if done
right, marijuana legalization has a shot at improving the situation -
cutting organized crime out of the equation, leading to a more
law-abiding society, and, through regulation and education rather than
prohibition, less use and less abuse.

Last week, Ontario announced its blueprint for doing just that. It's
better than prohibition, but it's also flawed, and not what other
provinces should copy.

Once the federal government fully legalizes recreational marijuana on
July 1, 2018, the legal age to purchase it in Ontario will be 19 - the
same as alcohol.

The scores of pot "dispensaries" that have recently sprouted up will
still be illegal. Ditto for "that guy" who sells in your
neighbourhood. The only legal seller of recreational marijuana in the
province will be the government-owned Liquor Control Board of Ontario.
The government says the price of pot will be low enough to compete
with the black market, thereby snuffing out illegal sales.

The big flaw in Ontario's plan is this: The LCBO, one of the world's
largest buyers and sellers of alcohol, won't be allowed to take full
advantage of its enormous reach. Marijuanawon't be sold in any of its
existing 660 stores. Instead, the LCBO is going to set up a separate,
and much smaller, retail marijuana operation.

It will offer online sales and home delivery, but when legalization
arrives next summer, the LCBO's new pot arm will have just 40 stores
open, rising to 150 by 2020. That's a much smaller footprint than the
province's various illegal retailers. And that's a problem.

Legalization aims at getting rid of the black market, and replacing it
with clean and legal sources of supply. But by so limiting the number
of legal places to buy pot, Ontario risks helping the illegal market
remain very much in demand. Allowing LCBO liquor stores to sell pot,
or licensing and regulating even larger numbers of private retailers,
as is done with beer and alcohol in some provinces, and with thousands
of private stores selling tobacco, is a better approach.

Ontario is also restricting where marijuana can be smoked, with limits
more stringent than those on tobacco smoking. The new right to use
marijuana can't involve imposing second-hand smoke or other dangers on
your fellow citizens - hence a ban on pot use in a car, similar to the
long-standing ban on open alcohol.

Most other provinces have yet to release their legalization plans.
They should carefully study what Ontario is doing, and improve on it.
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MAP posted-by: Matt