Pubdate: Thu, 21 Dec 2017
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Kelly McParland
Page: A10


My favourite moment in the unfurling disaster of marijuana
legalization was the one in which First Nations leaders demanded
control over pot sales, distribution, regulation and policing within
Indigenous communities, and the right to set the laws that will
oversee its use by their people.

Of course they did. First Nations view themselves as just that -
sovereign nations - with the right to govern themselves as they see
fit. Why would control of pot be any different than anything else?

My second favourite moment occurred just shortly afterwards, when
federal and provincial finance ministers got together to divvy up the
loot. The gathering reminded me of the scene in James Bond films when
the well-dressed hoodlums of SPECTRE sit around a table tallying their
proceeds: kidnapping revenue is a pleasant surprise, extortion income
is way up, and blackmail is thriving. It took some arguing, but in
this case No. 1 - that would be Bill Morneau - agreed to cut the
federal take to 25 per cent without having to push a button and have
one of the ministers carted away as a corpse.

There are plenty of other treasured moments I could mention. Canadians
who understood that legalizing pot would free the police from the
bothersome and wasteful procedures that current laws require must be
baffled at persistent police complaints that new enforcement needs
will put great demands on their ability to cope. They keep pestering
Ottawa to delay the scheduled July 1 legalization date, allowing them
more time to prepare. To prepare for something that's not an offence?

Of course, their worry - and that of many others - is that the
parameters being assembled to support the law won't be adequate to
achieve the promises that have been made. When Prime Minister Justin
Trudeau proclaimed his determination to legalize pot for recreational
use, he didn't mention all the problems involved. It was all going to
be part of the sunny ways movement: adult Canadians would be allowed
to freely acquire their supply, safe from fear of arrest, crushing the
business model of organized crime and cutting into the problem of
underage drug abuse.

Voters signalled their support for this Valhalla, based mainly on the
theory of the thing. If you can drink booze, why shouldn't you be able
to smoke pot. Same thing, right?

I guess. Except it's proving to be a lot more complicated. In asking
voters whether they support legalization - which most say they do -
pollsters should have added a second question: "Fine, but do you
believe Canada's politicians are capable of handling this without
making a complete mess of the situation?"

This government is proving itself to be long on messes. The electoral
reform mess. The botched inquiry into murdered and missing women. The
shambles of a policy on procuring new fighter planes for the military.
(We're now buying used planes from the Australians. Seriously.)
Marijuana policy is just another in the list, but with significant

Rather than one nationwide distribution policy, there will be 13, as
each province and territory invents its own. The limited number of
outlets planned in jurisdictions like Ontario will only encourage
users to find more convenient suppliers, i.e. the same illegal dealers
they're used to. Advertising rules will prevent pot being marketed to
the underaged, but it's not advertised now, at all, and that's hardly
stopped anyone. If anything, the fact that pot is legal can only help
convince teens that there can't be anything wrong with it, so why wait
until they reach legal age?

Doctors point out that legalizing the drug won't reduce its harmful
impact on the developing brains of young smokers. Police remain
concerned about detecting marijuana use in motorists. No one wants a
"dispensary" - the polite name that masks the reality of the fact that
we're talking about drug sales - anywhere near schools, parks,
playgrounds or anywhere else kids might be exposed to it. Other than
making it easier for adult users to get their supply without having to
be sneaky about it - that is, if they decide to use one of the legal
outlets rather than stick with what they know - how is this progress?

As Ottawa hurries towards its July 1 deadline despite repeated pleas
for caution, the real attraction of legalization - that would be the
money - is becoming more evident.

"There's a lot of money to be made off it," acknowledged Donald
Maracle, Chief of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. At a recent First
Nations gathering he indicated that band councils "want in on the
economic benefit to create jobs and earn revenue."

He's well aware of the risks, topped by health dangers, damage to
communities and ongoing lawbreaking. Already "dispensaries" have
started crowding onto reserves in hopes of evading provincial and
federal regulators.

"There is a huge question about whether Ontario's laws can even apply
on reserve," noted Maracle. Chief Randall Phillips, of the Oneida
Nation near London, Ont., was clear on that score: "We will decide who
gets it. We will decide how it gets distributed. We will decide how it
gets protected and we are going to look at all those things. But I
don't need a regulatory framework."

That's not the story the prime minister sold to Canadians when he
pledged strict rules and reliable enforcement, with a focus on
safeguarding young people. It's more like the status quo, but with
Ottawa charging $1 a gram in tax, plus 10 per cent on anything above
10 grams, and the provinces getting 75 per cent of the take. The only
crime in illegal pot sales, it appears, was that Ottawa wasn't getting
its share of the profits.
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