OPINION: Government control will hurt legalized pot

By: ETC Staff

The legalization of marijuana is now only a matter of time. This huge move has some pot smokers questioning whether this is a move forward in pot policing or just a move for the government to grab another cash crop.

Many in our generation have smoked cannabis and are glad of legalization. It is not fair to tell people what they can and cannot do with their bodies. You may instruct them on health effects, but at the end of the day it should be left to individual to decide what is best for them.

Now the de-criminalization of marijuana and marijuana consumption is good, as it allows people to consume on their own terms and not necessarily behind closed doors. It offers more individual choice and freedom with what we choose to do in our lives.

 According to the University of Ottawa, roughly 90,000 people are annually arrested in Canada on marijuana related offenses, and about 70 per cent of those were for possession. The enforcement of marijuana laws roughly runs the government a bill of $500-million a year. This is a lot of tax dollars going to wasted police hours, when the majority of convictions and penalization comes from simply having the substance on one’s person.

It is well known how much marijuana is recreationally used in Canada; according to the same Ottawa study, an estimated 2.3 million Canadians smoke weed, and people are usually introduced at a young age, around 15.

We have an annual production of over 2.6 million kilograms of marijuana, with around 215,000 grow operations around the country, the university finds. Many people grow their own and not document this information, so these numbers are likely a low estimate.

On the cusp of Canadian legalization of recreational use of cannabis, what we don’t want to see is government control of the industry, with so many private businesses ready to cater to pot needs. A myriad of dispensaries are already distributing to customers who have “green cards” for medical use. Marijuana distribution should stay in the private sector. It will thus open up more jobs and keeps provincial governments from pricing the commodity at whatever level they want.

Government clearly has an issue with the already existing dispensaries, as many Toronto pot shops were raided in March. The police action was ostensibly in response to concerns about the quality and safety of products, yet the government had already received and accepted tax dollars through the sales of marijuana.

The legislation indicates that marijuana will be secured and regulated by Ottawa, and that producers will be licensed by the government. It is fine for the majority of vendors to require permits and licenses to sell their goods, but the fact that the government will regulate production, maintain the supply and set the prices is problematic.

This is like the LCBO, and its control over almost all alcohol sales in Ontario. We are all forced to go to one shop for our alcohol, which leads to even more issues such as congestion and wait times.

It is reasonable to have rules on the safety of cannabis, ensuring it does not have negative health effects. This is just the same as butcher shops; if a customer gets a bad piece of meat that was prepared unhygienically, they can take legal action against the private establishment.

Meanwhile, it is a government-paid health inspector who has the final say on what is to be done in regards to health regulation and product sold.

The continued presence of a tobacco industry also means there is an issue of double standard if government wants to apply stricter controls on cannabis. Think about cigarettes. It is well known that they contain worse chemicals and carcinogens than the tobacco itself. Yet they are still sold with very little restraining regulation, in corner stores, in practice often allowing underage consumers to purchase smokes. They are kept around because they make a lot of money.

Government organizations should be included in the vetting and regulation of hygienic practices and health issues surrounding any product, a matter associated with public health. That does not mean that they need a complete restrictive power over the marijuana industry.

The LCBO was founded in 1927, placing alcohol consumption and distribution under the direct control of the province of Ontario. This is exactly what they want to do with marijuana but the justifications for such an approach remain unclear.

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