Pubdate: Mon, 27 Nov 2017
Source: Guardian, The (CN PI)
Copyright: 2017 The Guardian, Charlottetown Guardian Group Incorporated
Author: Lee Harding
Page: A11


Marijuana legalization opponents say long-term health and social costs
will be significant

Legalize and tax marijuana and the budget will balance itself.
Marijuana advocates from stoners to recreational users to the prime
minister have tried to convince us of this for years. But they're all

It makes some sense that a product so commonly used should be
regulated rather than criminalized, sending its newly enabled taxation
revenues to the public coffers. Unfortunately, recent federal
announcements and the examples of two American states tell us that a
fiscal boon from legal pot is nothing more than reefer madness.

Marijuana legalization opponents say that the long-term health and
social costs will create a burden on our health-care system through
drug-induced car accidents, brain damage, lung damage and the like.

No need to wait - the bill is already more than three quarters of a
billion dollars and counting.

Last spring's federal budget called for $9.6 million over five years
for awareness, education and "surveillance activities," with another
$36.4 million announced in the fiscal update.

In September, Public Safety Canada announced $274 million of
marijuana-related spending.

As October ended, the federal government announced a further $548
million would be spent to implement the Cannabis Act. Of this, a
whopping $432 million is headed to Health Canada, $68 million to the
RCMP, $40 million to border security, and $6 million to Public Safety

Put down your illegal reefer for a moment, long enough to understand
that nothing the government does is cheap or efficient.

Health Canada's millions are apparently for "a new regulatory
approach, including licensing and inspection, compliance and
enforcement, monitoring and research, as well as a national public
education and awareness campaign, tracking systems and program support."

Never mind that this will all have to be done in conjunction with the
provinces, which will have their own untold costs.

At least some of this health spending seems superfluous, especially
regarding marijuana awareness. Anyone who wanted to know the effects
already does and everyone else is in ignorant bliss.

Besides, if the packaging is forced to look anything like that for
cigarettes, it will basically say, "This will kill you," aided by
grotesque illustrations, and people will maintain happy denial anyway.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has suggested a 10 per cent pot tax. But
Finance Department officials refuse to suggest that this will even
provide cost recovery for legalization. It's far from certain.

Colorado, with one-seventh the population of Canada, received $76
million from marijuana taxes and fees in 2014 and that ballooned to
$200 million last year. That said, Colorado's excise and sales taxes
on pot add up to 27.9 per cent.

The tax-free status of Canada's Indigenous reservations will also
undermine federal and provincial marijuana revenues. Tobacco tax
exemptions amount to an estimated $686 million annually.

In Quebec and Ontario, the Akwesasne, Kahnawake, Tyendinaga and
Ohsweken reserves, with their own factories, produce a very high
percentage of contraband tobacco. Nearly one-third of Ontario
cigarettes are contraband. The Macdonald-Laurier Institute estimates
the cost to public coffers is $1.6 billion to $3.1 billion in Ontario

If tobacco, forever legal and widely available, can have up to a third
of its sales illegal, imagine what the proportion will be for
marijuana, widely available yet illegal in Canada since 1923.

As Canada prepares to become the second nation in the world to
legalize the recreational use of marijuana, it must hold fast to at
least one sober thought: pot consumption and taxation will not relieve
our governments' fiscal headaches.

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Lee Harding is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public 
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