On­tario’s pot sell­ing plan goes from bad to worse

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - COMMENT - KELLY EGAN kegan@post­media.com

The gov­ern­ment sell­ing weed to any­body is a ter­ri­ble idea.

So is the cre­ation of a sub­sidiary of the Liquor Con­trol Board of On­tario to cre­ate and run a retail net­work.

I was brows­ing On­tario’s sun­shine list on Mon­day, the phone-book sized doc­u­ment that cat­a­logues pub­lic-sec­tor salaries of more than $100,000.

The LCBO has ei­ther 359 or 313 em­ploy­ees on the list — hon­estly, it was like count­ing jelly beans in a gi­ant jar — in­clud­ing a president and CEO who made $494,308 in 2016.

When the gov­ern­ment re­tails any­thing, the over­head costs are ridicu­lous. The stand-alone Cannabis Con­trol Board of On­tario — if such is even its name — will be re­quired to have a board, with paid mem­bers, sup­port­ing staff, some kind of sec­re­tariat, one imag­ines, and an au­dit com­mit­tee and such, and an an­nual re­port, and a logo, and of­fices and, one as­sumes, many, many more peo­ple on the sun­shine list. This is be­fore it sells a sin­gle gram.

The LCBO as a model? I was skim­ming its 2015-2016 an­nual re­port, a 104-page grip­per I’m sure cost noth­ing to pro­duce. It listed 10 vice-pres­i­dents. It did not list the names of 8,000 in-store em­ploy­ees, most of them ca­sual, some of whom earn close to $27 an hour.

That year, it cost $874 mil­lion in to­tal ex­penses to run the LCBO, a scan­dalous sum lost in the vast bil­lions that liquor brings in and the an­nual premium it sends to the prov­ince ($2 bil­lion, give or take).

So, the point is an old one, like the story of the $2 ham­mer that costs $60 af­ter nine de­part­ments and six com­mit­tees, in two lan­guages, de­cide it is an ap­pro­pri­ate de­vice to strike nails: The gov­ern­ment, not driven by a profit mo­tive, is bad at sell­ing and buy­ing things.

Al­ready, the first 40 stores sound silly. There will be no self-ser­vice and the prod­ucts will not be vis­i­ble to youth. It be­ing the gov­ern­ment, the stores won’t be junky, but high-end, full of se­cu­rity de­vices and vaults and prob­a­bly cost the earth to lease or build.

Peo­ple will line up for their pot, one as­sumes, like get­ting your li­cence-plate sticker.

Staff, the gov­ern­ment as­sures, “will have knowl­edge of the in­di­vid­ual prod­ucts and pub­lic health in­for­ma­tion about how to use cannabis re­spon­si­bly.” (On that note, I’d like to see the one liv­ing pub­lic health of­fi­cial who is go­ing to en­cour­age any­one to use cannabis, “re­spon­si­bly” or oth­er­wise.)

There seems to be all this con­cern about keep­ing weed shops away from schools. Why? Isn’t cannabis a suit­able prod­uct for any­one older than 19? If not, why is the gov­ern­ment sell­ing it? And doesn’t the CCBO want to sell as much mar­i­juana as pos­si­ble? If so, set up right across from uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges.

Or are we just em­bar­rassed about the whole thing?

The Globe and Mail pub­lished the re­sults of an in­ter­est­ing poll on Mon­day. It found only seven per cent of re­spon­dents agreed with the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment pitch that legally dis­tribut­ing mar­i­juana would lead to a drop in con­sump­tion by Canada’s youth. That’s be­cause 93 per cent of Cana­di­ans are smart.

On the week­end, a friend re­lated this comment passed along by her buddy: “You know, I haven’t talked to one par­ent who thinks this is a good idea.”

Look at the lead quote from Yasir Naqvi, On­tario’s at­tor­ney gen­eral and a fa­ther of young chil­dren, who makes it sound like the prov­ince is re­tail­ing vials of ni­tro to young peo­ple with the jitters: “We’ve heard peo­ple across On­tario are anx­ious about the fed­eral le­gal­iza­tion of cannabis.” (Oh, “heard” have you?)

Booze, gam­bling, weed. How are any of these a pub­lic ser­vice in On­tario?

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