The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE -

TELLING IT LIKE IT is, the On­tario gov­ern­ment’s plans for deal­ing with le­gal­ized mar­i­juana are noth­ing short of a cash grab, cou­pled with some pan­der­ing to the pub­lic sec­tor unions Kath­leen Wynne hopes will win her votes among a group re­spon­si­ble for act­ing against the pub­lic in­ter­est.

Never mind talk about pre­vent­ing kids from get­ting weed – that will con­tinue as it al­ways has – the de­ci­sion to have the LCBO over­see sales is purely about Queen’s Park cash­ing in on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s du­bi­ous look-how-hip-we-are poli­cies.

The prov­ince plans to roll out 40 stand­alone LCBO­like stores next year when the feds le­gal­ize mar­i­juana as of July 1. More will fol­low, to 150 by 2020. Some kind of Mar­i­juana Con­trol Board of On­tario will see to it that over­priced prod­ucts are sold by union­ized gov­ern­ment work­ers in bricks-and-mor­tar lo­ca­tions fi­nanced by tax­pay­ers.

Hav­ing worked to cor­ner the mar­ket on booze and gam­bling – pro­mot­ing both in­ces­santly to in­crease much-needed rev­enue given its fis­cal in­com­pe­tence – why would the prov­ince do anything but opt for a cashier cash cow?

Crit­ics have al­ready pointed out that attempts to limit sup­ply – few lo­ca­tions, high prices – will likely serve only to in­crease black mar­ket sales, as there is al­ready a wellestab­lished net­work in place.

Plat­i­tudes about stop­ping or­ga­nized crime aside, the es­tab­lished sup­ply and the rel­a­tive ease of grow­ing/ sourc­ing weed in small quan­ti­ties are likely to test Wynne’s de­sire to cor­ner the mar­ket on an­other vice.

Draw­ing on its treat­ment of cig­a­rette sales, the prov­ince aims for plain pack­ag­ing and clin­i­cal han­dling of the prod­uct. To­bacco is sold through mul­ti­ple pri­vate busi­nesses. Gov­ern­ments love the tax rev­enues, but don’t have a di­rect stake in the busi­ness. Thus we see an­ti­smok­ing ads. Con­trast that to the pro­mo­tional ef­forts for liquor and gam­bling, the sins owned by the prov­ince.

The cur­rent plan might hark back to the ear­lier days of liquor sales – un­invit­ing lo­ca­tions, furtive or­ders on slips of pa­per, back­room stashes – but how long do you think it will be be­fore we start see­ing life­style ads and glossy magazines? It took decades to get liquor laws out of the stone age and, per­haps, to the bronze age we have to­day – too many rules, too many taxes, too lit­tle con­ve­nience – but a prof­li­gate gov­ern­ment des­per­ate for money may look to speed things up.

Where you stand on the le­gal­iza­tion is­sue in gen­eral would colour your stance on such an out­come, but chances are the prov­ince will latch on to the money and do what­ever it can to gen­er­ate more.

That’s the re­al­ity of a sit­u­a­tion in which we have a gov­ern­ment – like most – that in­sists on spend­ing with­out ac­count­abil­ity, in­clud­ing to fu­ture tax­pay­ers. Wynne, in par­tic­u­lar, is in­tent on fun­nelling bil­lions of pub­lic dol­lars into Lib­eral re-elec­tion schemes, from out­right fraud to buy­ing off the pub­lic sec­tor, moves that run con­trary to the pub­lic good in al­most ev­ery case and to the law in some – see ad­vances in the gas plant and Sud­bury by­elec­tion scan­dals, two clear in­stances of a gov­ern­ment putting its own for­tunes ahead of what’s right.

We can ex­pect no bet­ter from this lat­est foray into money-grab­bing, elec­tion-rig­ging ter­ri­tory.

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