HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Don't Repeat Errors Of Booze
Pubdate: Mon, 11 Sep 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Page: A10


The Ontario government seems determined to repeat the mistakes of the
past by giving a new state-run monopoly total control over the sales
of marijuana

Ontario's Liberal government deserves a lot of credit for finally
loosening up the province's antiquated and paternalistic system for
selling wine and beer. It's made it easier for consumers to purchase
alcohol safely and responsibly, while also being treated more like
actual adults.

Now, though, the government seems determined to repeat the mistakes of
the past by giving a new state-run monopoly total control over the
sales of recreational marijuana when it becomes legal next July.

The government's "safe and sensible approach" to regulating and
selling cannabis, rolled out on Friday, involves setting up a
subsidiary of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) that will
have the exclusive right to sell marijuana, online and through a new
chain of stand-alone stores.

Forty storefronts are scheduled to open by next summer, with about150
planned by 2020. The illegal "dispensaries" that have popped up all
over Toronto and elsewhere will be driven out of business.

Of course, there are ample reasons to be cautious about making
marijuana legal. The public and the government are right to be
concerned about many issues, including the effect of pot on young
people, how to enforce the law against driving while stoned and making
sure bystanders' health isn't compromised by people toking up in public.

So it's good to see the government taking steps to protect young
people with strict controls on sales to anyone under19, a public
health campaign and giving municipalities a say on where stores should
be located (not near schools, for example).

It's right to plan a crackdown on impaired driving. And restricting
consumption to private homes makes sense. Few people want to be
subjected to others smoking pot on sidewalks and other public spaces.

Still, none of these laudable goals require turning over all retailing
to a government monopoly. It's wrong to set up the choice as one
between the safe, secure LCBO and unscrupulous private pot shops ready
to sell cheap weed to underage kids.

There ought to be room for responsible private retailers to share this
new and lucrative market with government outlets. Adult consumers have
a right to choice, and killing the illegal market will be a lot
trickier if buying cannabis is made too difficult or awkward.

Ontario went through all this with booze, which by all the evidence is
more dangerous than cannabis to both users and the general public. For
decades the LCBO (and the Beer Store) made buying alcohol feel like a
furtive, shameful experience. It's taken years to make LCBO outlets
open and friendly and to bring in a welcome measure of private

The sky didn't fall when that happened, and there's no reason to
believe that well-regulated, properly run private outlets would
compromise the safety or health of Ontarians. U.S. states that have
legalized pot have gone that route, without negative effects. Those
who break the law by, for example, selling to minors risk losing their
licence, and therefore their livelihood.

It's understandable that Ontario might opt for a straight-up public
monopoly at the beginning. The provinces and territories are under the
gun to meet the deadline for legalization set by the federal
government. It's a big job to draft the rules and set up a
distribution system by next July.

So it may not be possible to figure out all the details of a parallel
private system as well within the time allowed. If that's the case,
the government should at least make clear now that there will be
private options not too far down the road.

And to be clear, that would not mean turning over windfall profits to
private operators. The government can set licensing fees, prices and
taxes to make sure it collects whatever level of revenue it wants from
all outlets, public or private.

The real point is to ensure choice and accessibility, so adult
Ontarians who choose to exercise their new legal right to consume
cannabis aren't treated like guilty children and the black market is
not allowed to thrive.

The government says it wants to take a similar approach to regulating
cannabis as it does to alcohol. If that's the case, it should follow
its own example and not give a government agency exclusive control
over sales of marijuana.
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