Pubdate: Tue, 21 Nov 2017
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network
Author: Rob Breakenridge
Page: A9


Occasionally, Alberta's NDP government manages to demonstrate that it
is capable of balance and pragmatism.

Unfortunately, that also underscores the frustration of so frequently
seeing them do the opposite.

In preparing for legalized cannabis, the NDP must have been awfully
tempted to follow the advice of their friends in the labour movement
and build a network of government-built and government-operated retail

But other than a pre-existing ideological bent, there really wasn't a
case to be made for such an approach. The costs would be considerable,
and there would not necessarily be any corresponding payoff in terms
of better outcomes. Moreover, it would simply delay the rollout of
legalized cannabis and prove to be a gift to the black market.

Unfortunately, other provinces are eyeing such an approach, which
might have given the Notley government some additional political cover
had they opted for the same route. Fortunately, they did not. And give
credit where credit is due: they got this mostly right.

First and foremost, the retail sale of cannabis is going to be left to
the private sector. While it happens to be the most logical option, it
was an open question whether the NDP would embrace it. The private
sector is best positioned to respond quickly to legalization and to
ensure that stores are ready to go come July 1, 2018, to meet the demand.

Furthermore, while this is not exactly going to rescue Alberta's
ailing economy, it will provide a jolt. The industry is considerable,
and bringing it on board - with all the legitimate jobs and investment
it will create - will provide a much-needed economic boost. That must
have provided an even more compelling political temptation for the

However, the Alberta government has opted to keep a corner of the
market for themselves. The online retail of cannabis, at least for
now, will be handled strictly through government-run websites. As to
where the supply will come from - or who will handle the delivery -
that remains unclear.

It's also unclear what happens to the established licensed producers
who are currently supplying medicinal users though online sales.

It's unclear why those established licensed producers couldn't simply
provide the online sales component of the legal market. The Alberta
government has argued that there could be concerns over age
verification, but it may simply come down to dollars and cents.

For as much as the black market has figured out how to make cannabis
profitable, and undoubtedly the private sector will too, this is
apparently a difficult proposition for the government. Online sales
could potentially be lucrative.

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley bluntly declared last week that
they're "projecting that this will cost the province considerably more
than it will take in at this time, so there isn't going to be a lot of
revenue to go around."

This is concerning. While there will no doubt be some upfront costs in
establishing new regulations, there's obviously going to be revenue
coming in from licence applications and marijuana taxes. While Ganley
cites potential costs associated with law enforcement and health care,
that doesn't add up either.

If anything, we'll end up saving money on law enforcement costs with
the end of prohibition. Additionally, whatever healthcare costs are
associated with marijuana use, we largely have those already.

Moreover, there's reason to believe that legalized cannabis could lead
to reduced consumption of alcohol or other drugs such as opioids.
Given the tremendous health-care costs of the abuse of these other
drugs, we could possibly realize savings in health care, too.

But if the objection to the government's plan is mere quibbling with
their analysis of the financial or social impact of legalization, then
perhaps that's an indication that its flaws are minimal.

It's quite likely that no jurisdiction will get it exactly right on
the first try. Alberta, though, appears to be getting the big things
right, and leaving room to adjust as needed in other areas.

This is encouraging.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt