Pubdate: Wed, 17 Jan 2018
Source: Record, The (Kitchener, CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 Metroland Media Group Ltd.
Author: Maxwell DeGroat
Page: A7


Health Canada's consultation with Canadians on the regulation of
marijuana is down to its final days. But what exactly does the
government wants us to comment on?

Do officials want us to question the stated objectives? Or perhaps
they want us to ask why they're being dishonest about their
consultation process?

We're in the middle of an opioid crisis that has already killed
thousands of Canadians and will likely kill thousands more. That
clouds this conversation.

Yet our experience with other drugs and even ordinary consumer
products tells us that government regulations to protect public health
by ensuring product safety and quality control are extremely important.

There's also a solid case to be made against burdening recreational
cannabis users with criminal records and the criminal justice system
with non-violent recreational cannabis users.

Yet in the public proposals, these apparently sensible and
straightforward considerations take second billing to three reasons
given by the government. Health Canada says the proposed Cannabis Act
will: Restrict youth access to cannabis; Protect young people from
enticements to use cannabis;

Impose criminal penalties on people caught violating the law, in
particular people illegally importing or exporting cannabis or
providing it to minors.

But isn't that what we already have in place?

It's difficult to imagine what more the government could do. The last
government's Safe Streets and Communities Act already stiffened the
penalties for trafficking marijuana. It added mandatory minimum
sentencing provisions to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act,
including two years for people convicted of dealing drugs near school

To date, one of these provisions has been struck down by the Supreme
Court. Nevertheless, the government is still talking as if it will be
tough on crime.

It's only government wishful thinking to expect young people to become
less interested in consuming cannabis once it's legal. Granted, it's
not impossible to imagine that young people may not be interested in
smoking pot, but it's statistically highly improbable. Between 2001
and 2011, the percentage of 15 to 17 year olds smoking tobacco dropped
from 20 per cent to 10 per cent. But this is hardly surprising given
that smoking tobacco became illegal in nearly all public places over
that same period. At the same time, there has been a relentless
intensification of anti-smoking propaganda directed at young people.

So far, there's little indication of a similar reduction in the
popularity of marijuana. If anything, more young people will
experiment with marijuana when it's legal than when it was illegal. In
fact, recent research shows that marijuana use among 15 to 17 year
olds holding steady at 20 per cent. And with more adults possessing
legal cannabis, ease of access for their kids will only increase.

The government has dishonestly omitted from the discussion another
objective: the increase in tax revenues from the legal sale of weed.
This could easily make legal cannabis uncompetitive with the black
market weed.

The case against Gerard Comeau, being heard by the Supreme Court, has
raised the hopes of free marketeers for an end to staterun monopolies
in Canada. Comeau bought beer in Quebec and brought it back into New

In fact, the Comeau case could lower trade barriers within the
country, forcing provincial monopolies like liquor control boards to
compete nationally. That could be a welcome victory for free-market
supporters but could also be a recipe for online free market with
inadequate or no controls against youth access.

If this happens, the misperception informing the political push for
marijuana legalization, that the kids are all doing it anyway, may
become a reality. Our vulnerable youth will have access to and be using 

We don't know the consequences of such a societal shift but we'll soon
find out.

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Maxwell DeGroat is research associate with the Frontier Centre for 
Public Policy and a lawyer practising in Calgary. Distributed by Troy Media.
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