Pubdate: Mon, 04 Dec 2017
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2017 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Lee Harding
Page: A7


LEGALIZE and tax marijuana and the budget will balance itself - or so
marijuana advocates, from stoners to recreational users to the prime
minister, have tried to convince us of this for years.

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
U.S. 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 Canada.

Put down your illegal reefer 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."

Put down your illegal reefer long enough to understand that nothing
the government does is cheap or efficient

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

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 US$76
million from marijuana taxes and fees in 2014 and that ballooned to
US$200 million last year.

That said, Colorado's excise and sales taxes on pot add up to 27.9 per

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

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 between $1.6 billion and $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.

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: the reality that 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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