There’s always been something a bit odd about the great marijuana legalization crusade.
Supporters, eager to avoid being seen as a bunch of frustrated pot-heads who just wanted easier access, put forward solid, practical arguments.
They pointed out that the war against drugs wasn’t working: anyone could see that. People who wanted pot would find a way to get it, no matter how illegal it might be. Police time was wasted chasing kids with a few grams of marijuana, and branding young people as criminals for a bit of pot was a crime in itself. Criminalization just paved the way for organized crime to peddle the stuff to kids, with no controls and huge profits. It made no sense.
Legalization, on the other hand, would solve — or at least lessen — these problems. Controlled sales would drive the crooks from the business. Standards and quality could be regulated and controlled. Authorities would be able to keep pot out of the hands of kids (which is important because, while adult brains may not be easily fried, young people can do serious damage to themselves with pot usage). Police could spend their time on more productive activities. Parents wouldn’t have to worry about Johnny doing drug deals in the back corner of the school-yard, or coming home all red-eyed and giddy.
Oh, and the government could make bags of money off it, though that wasn’t the main intent of course. The main intent was health and safety. And there was a libertarian argument as well: if adults wanted to add pot to their list of vices — smoking, drinking, whatever — who was the government to interfere?
So Justin Trudeau confessed that, sure, he’d smoked pot, and if we made him prime minister, he’d legalize it for everyone. The dark old days would be over. Adults could be adults.
On Thursday the Liberals kept their promise and tabled their pot bill. Yet somehow it’s less than reassuring.
It’s vague on everything. Packaging, pricing, age restrictions, taxing, quantities, enforcement … a lot of the decisions have been left to the provinces. Hurrah! A federal pot law! Now let’s hope the 10 premiers, and their successors, make it a good one!
If the intent was to control sales and provide a uniform, regulated market, how do you do that with 10 provinces all making their own decisions on all the key aspects? If Manitoba has liberal rules, and Ontario stiff ones, is anyone in doubt that illicit traffic across the Manitoba/Ontario border will suddenly increase? And why would anyone think the provinces will responsibly address the issue of marijuana sales when they have failed so miserably to adopt a sensible approach to cross-border beer and wine sales?
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould asserted that if any of the provinces act unfairly, customers can always turn to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Great, that’s just what we need, a new avalanche of rights complaints jamming courts that are already grossly overburdened, because someone in Broken Arm, Sask., likes the pot laws in Halifax, N.S. more.
If the point of legalization was to solve major problems, it seems to have been lost in the process. The Liberals plan stringent penalties for sales to minors: up to 14 years in jail for selling pot to anyone under 18. This will have the same effect as the war on drugs, i.e. feed an illicit trade and provide the lure of big profits for organized crime. Either that, or the courts will conclude the penalties don’t match the offence and ignore them, making access for the young easier. How is it that the same people who blithely declare that people who want drugs will always get drugs, now think strict age laws will act as a deterrent?
The Liberal bill will do nothing to stem the broader drug trade, which will maintain the flood of cocaine, heroin and opioids. The tunnels under the U.S.’s southern frontier, the mass graves in Mexican border towns, the corruption and killing, will not be driven from business because Canada now has retail pot stores on main street (located a reasonable distance from schools on the foolish notion that this will somehow keep pot from the kids). Vancouver’s downtown east side won’t be any more pleasant, or littered with fewer discarded needles.
The Liberal bill will do nothing to stem the broader drug trade, which will maintain the flood of cocaine, heroin and opioids
Meanwhile, news pages are filled with reports on the big profits pot sales will bring. A wave of mergers and acquisitions is predicted as small players get swallowed up and “Big Marijuana” emerges, just as has happened with tobacco and alcohol. Lobbying is already underway to ensure advertisers have a free hand to lure customers. “If they don’t allow any kind of advertising, the problem is the black market will continue to advertise and continue to put Canadians at risk,” Sébastien St. Louis, CEO of Hydropothecary Corp., a licensed producer of medical marijuana, told the Financial Post. The good news for Pot Inc. is that the Liberals have not demanded plain white packaging, which would have ruined “brand awareness” and driven customers to the black market (which we all thought was going to be eradicated, didn’t we?)
So what was the point of it all? The criminals won’t go away, underage smokers will still find a way to get their hands on the drug, authorities will still have their hands full policing and enforcing it all, and Canadians will have a whole new bureaucratic entity to reckon with, run jointly by Ottawa and disparate provinces run by governments of varying stripe and conflicting priorities.
The only obvious advantage is this: adults who already smoked pot will find it slightly less inconvenient to get their supply, and governments will get a new source of tax revenue. Which is all this was ever really about anyway, folks.