Pot act misses an en­tre­pre­neur­ial op­por­tu­nity

I en­vi­sion a fu­ture where users can buy a gram from the lit­tle old lady next door

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - Mar­garet Shkimba is a writer who lives in Hamil­ton. She can be reached at men­r­va­sofia@gmail.com or you can “Friend” her on Face­book and fol­low her on Twit­ter (@men­r­va­sofia)

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.

MAR­GARET SHKIMBA

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