HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Latest Plan Won't Stunt Black Market
Pubdate: Sat, 09 Sep 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Author: Chantal Hebert
Page: A22


Canada is edging closer to the July 2018 target date for the
legalization of marijuana in a haze of political smoke.

With every new development, the gap between the political narrative
attending the initiative and its actual implementation is harder to

Take the federal government's talking points. They have greatly
evolved since Justin Trudeau was campaigning on university campuses in
the last election campaign. Logic has not always benefited from that

To hear the prime minister these days, the point of the policy is to
make it harder for minors to buy marijuana. Clearly, Canada is making
its peace with marijuana the better to fight it.

According to Trudeau, that will be achieved by imposing stiffer
penalties on those who sell weed illegally and/or drive under the
influence. There is a commitment to government-funded public education
campaigns to drive home the health risks associated with marijuana.

Fair enough, but those are all measures a health-conscious federal
government could have undertaken without jumping through the hoops of
legalizing the substance.

The oft-missing link in the Liberal talking points is how Trudeau's
stated goal ties in with the legal sale of marijuana.

Proponents of the plan talk of the need to replace a thriving
underground market with a regulated one. The calculation, or at least
the hope, is that legal competition will accomplish what judicial
repression has so far failed to achieve. But to do that one must be
willing to use means on par with policy ambitions.

In the federal/provincial division of labour, setting the legal
marijuana business on a competitive footing is left to the discretion
of individual provinces. It is a politically uncomfortable task for
which none is particularly enthusiastic. Cue the government of
Ontario. On Friday it became the first to come up with a template to
sell marijuana.

As Canada's largest province, Ontario stands to set the tone for much
of the rest of the country. Many of its sister provinces are still
seeking advice from experts and/or sounding out constituents.

Quebec, for instance, has yet to decide something as basic as whether
to apply the legal age to buy alcohol to marijuana.

Ontario is set to use age 19 for both categories.

But the Ontario blueprint falls well short of the purported goal of
driving those who sell weed illegally out of business.

If anything over the next few years, it stands to fatten the golden
goose that is the marijuana black market rather than kill it.

The plan is to establish a government monopoly on the selling of
marijuana. The LCBO would run the operation in stores distinct from
its liquor outlets. Ontario would open 80 pot shops by July 1, 2019
and another 70 over the following year.

It would take a lot more than 150 outlets and quite a bit longer than
two years to flood the market with legal marijuana in a province the
size of Ontario.

For the sake of comparison, Colorado, with a population of less than
six million people, initially opened 136 venues for the purpose of
legally selling marijuana.

Ontario, with more than double that population and a larger territory,
is planning to offer little more than the same number. It is as if a
cheese artisan set out to drive Kraft out of business by setting up a
stall at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto.

At the same time Ontario would clamp down on illegal storefront

Under the guise of creating a staterun monopoly, the province is
running the risk of creating more demand for the services of the very
people it purports to drive out of business.

I have never tried marijuana. Not even in high school when everyone
else seemed to be partaking in the weed experience. But that was not
for lack of availability.

I cannot think of a time at any point in my adult life when I could
not have easily procured a joint. That is particularly true of the
period over which I was raising teenagers.

Unless they have been living on another planet, the provincial and
federal politicians who are debating the upcoming legalization of
marijuana must be familiar with the omnipresence and the reach of the
underground market. And they must know that half-hearted measures tend
to yield costly failures.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt