NDP needs to fo­cus on the rules sur­round­ing mar­i­juana re­tail­ing

That should be the ex­tent of gov­ern­ment in­volve­ment in the sale of pot

Calgary Herald - - EDITORIAL - ROB BREAKENRIDGE Af­ter­noons with Rob Breakenridge airs week­days on New­sTalk 770. rob. breakenridge@corusent.com

There may be one up­side in or­ga­nized labour’s em­brace of gov­ern­ment owned and op­er­ated re­tail cannabis out­lets in that it may con­vert some con­ser­va­tives who were pre­vi­ously op­posed to le­gal­iza­tion into cham­pi­ons of pri­vate pot pro­pri­etors.

Oth­er­wise, though, it’s hard to see any value in the propo­si­tion that the Al­berta gov­ern­ment be tasked with es­tab­lish­ing and over­see­ing mar­i­juana stores come next year. Last Fri­day marked the end of the gov­ern­ment’s con­sul­ta­tion process, and it had left the door open on this rather fun­da­men­tal ques­tion.

It should re­ally come as no sur­prise that groups such as the Al­berta Fed­er­a­tion of Labour and the Al­berta Union of Pro­vin­cial Em­ploy­ees favour the gov­ern­ment mo­nop­oly op­tion. I’m quite cer­tain that there are other in­dus­tries they would like to place in that cat­e­gory, and so since the ques­tion is be­ing asked in this in­stance, it’s an easy and ob­vi­ous “yes” for them.

More­over, why would we ex­pect the AUPE to op­pose a pro­posal that would mean more gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees rep­re­sented by the very same union?

Prior to form­ing gov­ern­ment, you’d be hard pressed to find many is­sues where the NDP de­vi­ated in any sig­nif­i­cant way from the AUPE or the AFL. And while it pre­dates the cur­rent NDP cau­cus, the party stri­dently op­posed the end of gov­ern­men­trun liquor stores. The win­dow to undo that change has prob­a­bly long closed, but the power to recre­ate such a sys­tem for mar­i­juana must be aw­fully tempt­ing.

So while their heart may be lean­ing in that di­rec­tion, their head has oc­ca­sion­ally demon­strated the abil­ity to be more prag­matic. For one, there would be very lit­tle to be gained po­lit­i­cally by opt­ing for the gov­ern­ment-mo­nop­oly model. As much as their friends in the AFL and AUPE would be dis­ap­pointed with the pri­vate re­tail op­tion, it’s not as though th­ese groups are go­ing to aban­don the NDP over it, es­pe­cially not in the face of a grow­ing chal­lenge from the United Con­ser­va­tive Party.

More­over, this would be a po­lit­i­cal gift to the UCP. It would be pretty sim­ple to put the NDP on the de­fen­sive over an ide­o­log­i­cal de­ci­sion like this that would de­liver a con­sid­er­able price tag and lit­tle else. It would con­firm some of the worst stereo­types about the NDP, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously ham­string­ing NDP ef­forts to talk about other is­sues that might con­jure up neg­a­tive stereo­types about the UCP.

Thanks to the work of one of the other op­po­si­tion par­ties — the Al­berta Party, specif­i­cally — we have a clearer idea of what it would cost the cash-strapped Al­berta gov­ern­ment to build and staff your happy neigh­bour­hood gov­ern­ment mar­i­juana store.

The Al­berta Party’s es­ti­mate pegs the start-up costs of such a sys­tem at $168 mil­lion, and that’s not count­ing the on­go­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive costs of this new bu­reau­cracy. Clearly, the pri­vate sec­tor can re­spond much more quickly and ef­fi­ciently, so this would be a need­less waste of money and might harm ef­forts to elim­i­nate the black mar­ket.

No one has ever ar­gued that the re­tail of mar­i­juana ac­ces­sories and para­pher­na­lia should be left to gov­ern­ment owned and op­er­ated out­lets. Nor, for that mat­ter, has any­one ar­gued the same for to­bacco, and we’ve made tremen­dous strides in re­duc­ing the over­all smok­ing rate, and the youth smok­ing rate in par­tic­u­lar.

Not that the AFL or AUPE would have op­posed such a sys­tem, but clearly, we’ve man­aged just fine with­out them. Be­cause ul­ti­mately, what mat­ters is the rules and reg­u­la­tions that over­see th­ese re­tail out­lets, not whether they’re owned by the state and staffed with union­ized pub­lic ser­vants.

Al­ready, at least one NDP MLA has mused about a hy­brid sys­tem, where the gov­ern­ment cre­ates the fran­chise model and en­trepreneurs run the stores while pay­ing the gov­ern­ment a li­cens­ing fee. That’s prob­a­bly still more gov­ern­ment in­volve­ment than is needed, but hope­fully, it’s a sign the NDP is look­ing for a way to say no to the idea of a state mo­nop­oly.


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