Pubdate: Mon, 27 Nov 2017
Source: Record, The (Kitchener, CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Metroland Media Group Ltd.
Author: Lee Harding
Page: A6


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. But they're all wrong.

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.

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

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

Last spring's federal budget called for spending $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 Canada.

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 marijuanaawareness. 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 still 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 alone.

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.

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Lee Harding is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public 
Policy. Distributed by Troy Media
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