By Medicine Hat News Opinon on October 7, 2017.
Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley has announced the first details of Alberta’s plans for selling marijuana once the product is legalized across the nation in July.
This makes Alberta the third province, after Ontario and New Brunswick, to show its hand.
Ganley announced enough details to satisfy those who want to know Alberta’s broader approach to legalization, while keeping more contentious details, like who gets to sell it, for a later date.
Although Alberta Health Services recommended making the legal age 21 for pot consumption and raising the alcohol and tobacco ages from 18 to match it, Alberta’s government is sensibly and simply making 18 the legal age for weed.
Since the stated goal of legalization is to keep kids away from the black market, it wouldn’t make sense to force people between the ages of 18 and 21 to purchase weed illegally.
If you’re an 18-year-old who wants to toke up, you’re not going to be deterred from doing so if it will be legal in three years. Of course, Canadian teenagers have never been deterred from smoking pot, which is one of the reasons why it’s becoming legal in the first place.
This fixation on preventing black market sales doesn’t make much sense. Has anyone ever been murdered over a pot deal gone awry? This stands in contrast to other substances where violent behaviour and gangsterism are intimately connected with their sale.
It would appear that decriminalization, rather than full legalization, would be the more rational course of action for a relatively harmless substance like marijuana.
But the prime minister made a vow to legalize and regulate marijuana sales, and to his credit he’s keeping that promise, unlike electoral reform and First Nations reconciliation.
In the meantime, it would be helpful if marijuana possession were decriminalized, considering it won’t be a crime come July, but this is outside of the province’s purview.
Alberta has yet to decide whether it will opt for Ontario’s much-maligned approach of establishing government-run stores for marijuana or New Brunswick’s arms-length Crown corporation.
The government is wisely waiting for further consultations from residents before making a decision that will largely determine how much revenue it will generate and how accessible the product will be.
Even moreso than Ontario with its already-established Liquor Control Board, it would be quite wasteful for Alberta to set up government-run pot vendors because it would have to create the infrastructure from scratch.
Ganley said the government’s immediate goal is to break even, not turn a profit, from weed sales.
But making money from the legalization of marijuana would be to the NDP’s benefit.
It could be used to reduce the province’s growing debt while maintaining current levels of public services.
This would eliminate a major conservative talking point that the current government is fiscally irresponsible, saddling future generations with unsustainable debt.
Colorado, in many ways a pioneer of marijuana legalization, nets about $200 million a year in marijuana sales, according to a recent article in Macleans.
Sure, that’s not a massive sum considering the state earns $24 billion in total revenues, but it’s a little something to go towards state coffers.
When you have crediting agencies and opposition parties breathing down your neck about deficits, as Alberta does, any bit of profit helps.
(Jeremy Appel is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to https://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)
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