Pubdate: Wed, 25 Oct 2017
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Jorge Araya
Page: FP9


For nearly a century, the marijuana industry in Canada has been left
to the black market. This has enriched criminal organizations,
promoted violence in communities and done little to prevent youth
access to the drug. Today, the federal government is seeking to
redress this issue and, by legalizing marijuana, it intends to shift
it from the hands of criminals and into a more responsible

The policy's success will largely depend on the regulatory details,
which will govern aspects of sale ranging from taxation to packaging
and promotion.

If the government is serious about keeping criminals out of future
marijuana sales, it must ensure pricing is competitive, that consumers
can identify legal brands versus illegal supply, and that access is

After all, why would consumers buy from a l egal source if the price
is considerably higher, if they cannot identify trustworthy brands, or
if the legal products do not satisfy their preferences?

To this point, indications seem encouraging that the federal
government's approach is informed, pragmatic and reasonable. While
this is good news, it also highlights a glaring inconsistency between
the government's approach to marijuana versus tobacco.

Canada faces a very serious problem with illegal tobacco: According to
the RCMP, contraband tobacco is a multi-billion-dollar industry run
by sophisticated organized crime groups. Nearly a quarter of the
tobacco consumed in t his country is illegal; our governments are
deprived of more than $ 2 billion in lost tax revenues each year, and
legitimate retailers are pushed out of business.

While the government is rightly concerned with ensuring the
competitiveness of the legal marijuana industry, its tobacco control
policies provide advantages to the contraband industry. Let us examine
some of the most blatant examples of contradictory policies: Finance
Minister Bill Morneau has stated that "we want to keep criminal
elements out, and keep cannabis out of the hands of children … this
will mean keeping taxes low."

Meanwhile, tobacco taxes account f or 70 per cent of the price of
cigarettes, which allow criminals to sell illegal tobacco at a small
fraction of the cost of legal products. The government's marijuana
bill appears to allow for on-package branding, so long as it does not
appeal directly to youth.

Meanwhile, 75 per cent of a package of cigarettes i s already occupied
by a graphic health warning, and the government is in the process of
removing all remaining branding ( including colours, logos, different
fonts and trademarks) from tobacco packaging.

The government plans to allow a variety of formats for marijuana
products, including edibles ( e. g., baked goods and gummy bears) and
multiple flavours.

Meanwhile, nearly all flavoured tobacco products are already banned,
and the government plans to standardize the shape, size and appearance
of cigarettes, which will make it virtually impossible to
differentiate legal from illegal products.

The government has made no indication the advertisement and promotion
of marijuanaproducts will be banned, and public figures like The
Tragically Hip and Trailer Park Boys have already been signed as
marijuana brand ambassadors. Meanwhile, nearly all forms of marketing,
advertisement and sponsorship of tobacco products are banned.

The government i s no doubt serious in its intent to responsibly
regulate access to a risky product like marijuana, and reduce access
to youth. After all, regular youth marijuana use in Canada is nearly
six times greater than regular youth tobacco use. If its marijuana
policies are sufficient to protect youth from product risks, as well
as curtail the illegal industry, why are they not adequate for tobacco?

In an age of progressive policies, the same principles used by our
government to oversee their approach to marijuana should also be
applied to tobacco. Additional consumers will not be tempted by the
black market, taxpayers will be better off, and only the criminals
will complain.

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Jorge Araya is president and CEO of Imperial Tobacco Canada.
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