Pubdate: Tue, 31 Oct 2017
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network
Author: Rob Breakenridge
Page: A11


That should be the extent of government involvement in the sale of

There may be one upside in organized labour's embrace of government
owned and operated retail cannabis outlets in that it may convert some
conservatives who were previously opposed to legalization into
champions of private pot proprietors.

Otherwise, though, it's hard to see any value in the proposition that
the Alberta government be tasked with establishing and overseeing
marijuana stores come next year. Last Friday marked the end of the
government's consultation process, and it had left the door open on
this rather fundamental question.

It should really come as no surprise that groups such as the Alberta
Federation of Labour and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees
favour the government monopoly option. I'm quite certain that there
are other industries they would like to place in that category, and so
since the question is being asked in this instance, it's an easy and
obvious "yes" for them.

Moreover, why would we expect the AUPE to oppose a proposal that would
mean more government employees represented by the very same union?

Prior to forming government, you'd be hard pressed to find many issues
where the NDP deviated in any significant way from the AUPE or the
AFL. And while it predates the current NDP caucus, the party
stridently opposed the end of government-run liquor stores. The window
to undo that change has probably long closed, but the power to
recreate such a system for marijuana must be awfully tempting.

So while their heart may be leaning in that direction, their head has
occasionally demonstrated the ability to be more pragmatic. For one,
there would be very little to be gained politically by opting for the
government-monopoly model. As much as their friends in the AFL and
AUPE would be disappointed with the private retail option, it's not as
though these groups are going to abandon the NDP over it, especially
not in the face of a growing challenge from the United Conservative

Moreover, this would be a political gift to the UCP. It would be
pretty simple to put the NDP on the defensive over an ideological
decision like this that would deliver a considerable price tag and
little else. It would confirm some of the worst stereotypes about the
NDP, while simultaneously hamstringing NDP efforts to talk about other
issues that might conjure up negative stereotypes about the UCP.

Thanks to the work of one of the other opposition parties - the
Alberta Party, specifically - we have a clearer idea of what it would
cost the cash-strapped Alberta government to build and staff your
happy neighbourhood government marijuana store.

The Alberta Party's estimate pegs the start-up costs of such a system
at $168 million, and that's not counting the ongoing administrative
costs of this new bureaucracy. Clearly, the private sector can respond
much more quickly and efficiently, so this would be a needless waste
of money and might harm efforts to eliminate the black market.

No one has ever argued that the retail of marijuana accessories and
paraphernalia should be left to government owned and operated outlets.
Nor, for that matter, has anyone argued the same for tobacco, and
we've made tremendous strides in reducing the overall smoking rate,
and the youth smoking rate in particular.

Not that the AFL or AUPE would have opposed such a system, but
clearly, we've managed just fine without them. Because ultimately,
what matters is the rules and regulations that oversee these retail
outlets, not whether they're owned by the state and staffed with
unionized public servants.

Already, at least one NDP MLA has mused about a hybrid system, where
the government creates the franchise model and entrepreneurs run the
stores while paying the government a licensing fee. That's probably
still more government involvement than is needed, but hopefully, it's
a sign the NDP is looking for a way to say no to the idea of a state
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MAP posted-by: Matt