Pubdate: Wed, 13 Dec 2017
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: John Robson
Page: A9


Canadians never forget the old joke about a pachydermy conference where 
French scientists discuss elephants' love lives, the British praise and 
the Soviets denounce "Elephants and Empire," Americans imagine breeding 
bigger better elephants, and Canadians empty the room with "Elephants: 
federal or provincial responsibility." Then there's the one about why 
elephants are big, grey and wrinkly. A: Because if they were small green 
and crumbly they'd be marijuana, and ending futile patronizing 
prohibition would cause finance ministers to swoop in and squabble over 
"Gouging the user: federal or provincial responsibility."

As they just did, taking for granted a special high excise tax and
bickering over the proceeds. Even Canada's municipalities,
federalism's poor cousins long denied access even to elephant
punchlines, wanted to score some of the grass cash to help with law
enforcement against something that, um, is about to be legal.

It is a remarkable tribute to marijuana's potency that it causes
rapid, paralyzing confusion in people who don't even consume it. (And
in the case of politicians, the munchies, though only for tax revenue
they already crave like a stoner with a bag of Oreos.) Under its
influence, Canadian governments can't even figure out how not to ban
something. And they're getting paranoid about keeping organized crime
out of legalized marijuana.

How much is organized crime involved in cars, or couches? Or even
alcohol when and where it's legal? The current counterexample is
tobacco, where governments have taxed and regulated something easy to
smuggle so harshly that a black market emerged. A feat they seem
likely to repeat with marijuana particularly because, as with tobacco,
they just can't get their minds around the simple notion that in a
free society something is either prohibited or allowed.

If it's legal, they only need a standard framework that prevents
force, fraud and sale to a restricted group who ought not to have it.
A concern, be it noted, not limited to drugs. You can't sell minors
cars, or let them buy furniture on an instalment plan. But how often
do legal dealers try?

Ontario finance minister Charles Sousa justified provincial demands
for the biggest baggie of marijuana revenue "because we're bearing
more of the costs." And the National Post story explained "The added
expenses likely to land with the provinces are expected to include
public-awareness campaigns, beefed-up policing, busier court systems
and increased road safety efforts."

They expect "beefed-up policing" and a "busier court system" once it's
NOT illegal? How busy are the courts with cases involving chairs, or
spinach? What part of "legal" don't they understand? Yet the ultimate
decision to split the money 25-75 and cap the federal take at $100
million included cities getting some cash "to help them defray the
cost of making pot legal across Canada."

What's the cost of making carrots legal? Obviously they come under
laws of general application, from transportation to adulteration. But
since marijuana is perhaps a $10 billion industry at inflated black
market prices, it won't contribute much to existing regulatory costs
in a $2 trillion economy. Certainly not compared to the half-billion
dollars a year now spent on prohibition. (As for government marijuana
stores, please tell me they'll make money. Government gambling and
booze does.)

Part of the effort to bogart the tax revenue was concern about
preventing stoned driving. But as with almost any other legitimate
restriction on an intoxicant, this problem doesn't get harder if you
legalize it. Something like one in eight Canadians over 14 already
uses pot at least occasionally.

Do politicians really think none ever get behind the wheel high?
Apparently so, since to date they've done nothing about it. Why do we
only now need a marijuana breathalyzer? Was it safer to drive under
the influence when it was illegal?

The elephant in this bathtub is Canadian governments' conviction that
they must foster everything worthwhile and discourage and plunder
everything else. Thus outgoing Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin just
claimed that internal free trade in alcohol risks "imposing a huge
burden on governments to come up with some agreements quickly so that
our society can be regulated in an orderly fashion."

The job of the state is not to regulate our society in an orderly
fashion. It is to detect, punish and deter force and fraud. I frankly
don't believe the people currently holding office, or any
representative sample of their predecessors, would be capable of
regulating our society in an orderly fashion even if it were
desirable. I don't even believe they could regulate marijuana sales
successfully. And I see no reason for them to try. But their concern
is always how to regulate, not whether.

Hence the economic conference where the Americans praised free
enterprise, the Russians said "Central planning? Don't go there," and
the Canadians, impeccably bilingual, asked "What is this laissez faire?"
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MAP posted-by: Matt