Pot act misses an entrepreneurial opportunity
I envision a future where users can buy a gram from the little old lady next door
I don’t want to write another LRT column, but I did want to say thank you to the councillors who voted in favour of the LRT for the 53rd time. Or is that the 54th? Does the vote to defer the vote count as a vote? Thank you to those who changed their position from “No” to “Yes”. For those who voted “No”, I hope you have the grace to accept the will of the people and get on board this exciting new phase of Hamilton’s development.
What I do want to write about it is the proposed Cannabis Act that comes into effect in July 2018.
Over the last few months, I’ve asked a number of doctors about cannabis use and their particular specialty and their responses were revealing. It was like they all were reading from the same playbook: “there isn’t enough evidence” or “I don’t know enough to give advice”. Although the body of evidence is growing, it’ll take some time before there’s enough data regarding cannabis use and abuse for doctors to feel confident in prescribing cannabis for their patients or to give advice to patients who use cannabis about the effects of its use on their health.
The proposed legislation, by legalizing recreational use, will have the greatest impact on medical research by finally allowing researchers access to users in clinical trials without researchers having to jump through insurmountable hurdles due to the illegality of the substance. It will also bring users into doctors’ offices looking for informed care, patients who haven’t previously discussed their use for fear of stigma. Doctors are going to have to up their game around the evidence regarding cannabis in order to provide competent care to their patients. Where is the plan for this? Are medical schools on board? Is the continuing education piece in place for practicing physicians?
One of the big promises of legalizing cannabis is the effect on law and order resources, that is, police, courts, jails, by redirecting or reducing those “war on drug” costs to the system. Police might rein in spending. Courts could see less possession charges and incarceration could go down. Instead, by restricting the supply-side to limited licensed growers this legislation will ensure that police will continue to have a role in restricting access for users, that courts will continue to be busy prosecuting cannabis crimes and jail will continue to be the home for people who demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit. That’s what happens when you put a top police officer like Bill Blair in charge.
Criminals. That’s what this legislation will continue to make with its restrictions on growing and selling to consenting adults. Those “criminals” who are your neighbours and who have grown cannabis in their backyards or basements, who have sold cannabis to family and friends. Those criminals.
Restricting participation in the trade to people with a clean criminal record is a slap in the face to all those people previously in the trade. If not for their risk-taking and flouting of the law, we wouldn’t be here today, finally taking the steps toward legalization. To cut these people out in favour of suits with money is just trading one organized “crime” for another. Will users see costs reduced in the retail side? Hardly.
Think of the entrepreneurial possibilities of cannabis production for the recreational market. Every time I read about a grow-op bust I think, there goes another enterprising entrepreneur. The only thing keeping it illegal is the law that says so. If the government wants to remove the criminal element from the cannabis supply chain, they would be best to open up production to anyone with a seed and pot of soil. The small business possibilities of the trade are endless: lights, fans, air cleaners, hydroponic systems, fertilizer, soil, seeds. Innovation drives the industry.
I envision a future where users can buy a gram from the little old lady next door who grows a few plants in her herb garden to supplement her pension. Or where people can rent grow-your-own space in a secure facility much like the brew-your-own businesses. And this is not that. Not by a long shot.
I’ll end with a transit comment since I began in that vein. The focus on impaired driving, whether alcohol, cannabis or any “do not operate heavy machinery” drug, only highlights the need for better transit and illustrates that our “freedoms” are predicated on whether we own and can drive a car. If we want to get serious about impaired driving, we have to provide better options, beginning with better transit, rather than policing behaviour with roadside tests.
The LRT, from McMaster to Eastgate, is a move in the right direction. Congratulations council.