Pot legalization headaches

While it’s not our intent to harsh your buzz, we see a few problems with the pending legalization of marijuana.

There are problems at both the federal and provincial level. In terms of Ottawa — where this ball started rolling when Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government began implementing a campaign promise from the 2015 election — national police representatives said this week that they won’t be ready to enforce new pot laws in time for July 1, 2018, when marijuana officially becomes legal. While it will no longer be a criminal offense to possess it, it will still be closely regulated. Officers still need to be trained on the new regs, and more officers will have to be certified to do roadside testing for drug-impaired motorists. If law enforcement isn’t prepared to enforce the new laws of the land and keep Canadians safe, that’s worrisome.

One of the elements of the federal legalization of marijuana includes the fact that provincial governments will have a role to play in how pot is sold. That’s where Ontario’s proposed new marijuana sale regime comes in.

Announced last week, the Ontario Liberal government would restrict the legal sale of marijuana to LCBO-run dispensaries across the province — 150 stores in total (or about one store for every 90,000 people in the province). Only 40 stores will be open by next summer (one store per 340,000).

We see the legalization of marijuana as a good thing, but only if that move led to the achievement of certain goals. Among those goals is to see the trade taken out of the hands of the black market (criminals) and put into the hands of regulated producers and retailers. The other is to provide a new revenue stream for the government, since marijuana will now be able to be taxed.

We’re concerned that Ontario’s plan would fail to achieve either goal. If purchasing pot legally is inconvenient, consumers will continue to use their black market sources to get their weed. That pot won’t be taxed. Further, a cumbersome and costly sale and distribution model for will only drive up the price of the end product.

We hope that the provincial Liberals take a long, hard second look at the model they’re proposing. There is some urgency to this: legalization takes place July 1, 2018, ready or not. So, Ontario has to come up with some kind of model. While a new government in Ontario after the next provincial election might have an opportunity to fix mistakes after the fact, it’s easier to get it right the first time.

No one said pot legalization was going to be easy — but it seems as though we’re making it harder than it has to be.

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