Sell­ing pot should be left to ex­perts

Sentinel-Review (Woodstock) - - OPINION -

Wel­come to the 1950s when, if an On­tar­ian wanted to le­gally pur­chase al­co­hol, he or she en­tered a bland ware­house, filled out and signed an or­der form, then handed it to a clerk who dis­ap­peared into a back room and even­tu­ally emerged with a lim­ited amount of booze for pur­chase.

That sounds a lot like what Kath­leen Wynne’s govern­ment has pro­posed as an ap­proach to cannabis, which is to be le­gal­ized na­tion­ally as early as July.

Un­der the prov­ince’s plan, you won’t be able to buy cannabis from pri­vate en­trepreneurs, or at an LCBO. In­stead, the On­tario govern­ment will set up an in­de­pen­dent sub­sidiary of the liquor con­trol board to ped­dle pot. Ad­ver­tis­ing will be lim­ited, there will be no self-ser­vice, the prod­ucts will be kept be­hind the counter, and you’d bet­ter be able to prove you are 19 or older.

This ap­proach is rub­bish. It dis­re­spects the spirit of the yet-to-be-passed fed­eral le­gal­iza­tion leg­is­la­tion, which, though re­luc­tantly, rec­og­nizes that in­di­vid­u­als have the right to make choices about what they con­sume. On­tario seems to feel that if it must al­low cit­i­zens to smoke pot, it will at least make this as dif­fi­cult as pos­si­ble. On­tario’s ap­proach is bad for other rea­sons: • It will cre­ate more govern­ment bu­reau­cracy. An­other pro­vin­cial agency is poised to spring from the imag­i­na­tion of the nanny state, this time to run a re­tail busi­ness.

• The prov­ince will have to make guesses about the right pric­ing, since it wishes to shut down the black mar­ket in drugs. But the best way to get prices right is to let pri­vate en­trepreneurs de­ter­mine what they wish to charge and take the as­so­ci­ated eco­nomic risks. The cannabis con­trol board, or what­ever it will be called, will also have to fig­ure out which pot prod­ucts it will mar­ket.

• While the cur­rent batch of pop-up pot shops is il­le­gal, these out­lets of­fer the be­gin­nings of a pri­vate-sec­tor model for sell­ing mar­i­juana. They have sup­ply chains, a cer­tain ex­per­tise and a client base. If made le­gal, they would re­quire care­ful reg­u­la­tion and health in­spec­tions, and would need to ad­here to zon­ing and other lo­cal rules. Fur­ther, gov­ern­ments could still tax pot prod­ucts, just as they tax cig­a­rettes, gaso­line and other goods.

No one should be sur­prised the prov­ince has taken a school-marm ap­proach to mar­i­juana. There’s a pro­vin­cial elec­tion next year, and the govern­ment’s “safe and sen­si­ble ap­proach,” as it dubs its pot pol­icy, is in­deed that — for the gov­ern­ing party.

But it does not make a good deal of sense for con­sumers. Just as it didn’t in the 1950s.

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