THE POL­I­TICS OF LE­GAL POT IS SAIL­ING BLIND

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - THE ISLAND - BY JIM VIBERT Jim Vibert, a journalist and writer for longer than he cares to ad­mit, con­sulted or worked for five Nova Sco­tia gov­ern­ments. He now keeps a close and crit­i­cal eye on pro­vin­cial and re­gional pow­ers.

Pro­vided all goes as planned, le­gal cannabis won’t have much af­fect on the po­lit­i­cal land­scape across the land, but rarely does all go as planned. Cana­dian at­ti­tudes to­ward le­gal­iza­tion were baked into Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s brown­ies long be­fore he took Canada on this mag­i­cal mys­tery tour. Pub­lic opin­ion on the recre­ational use of cannabis has been fairly con­stant since the de­bate be­gan in earnest and hasn’t changed in the lead up to the big event, Oct. 17. About a third of Cana­di­ans op­posed le­gal pot from the out­set and still do. Sup­port for le­gal­iza­tion seems more fluid — polls have the level rang­ing from the low 50s to well over 60 per cent — which sug­gests some soft sup­port could move into the op­po­si­tion camp if le­gal­iza­tion goes badly. If it goes well and there is a po­lit­i­cal pay­off in this, it goes to Trudeau and com­pany, who get to put a check­mark in the prom­ises-kept col­umn even if le­gal pot doesn’t move a vote. But where there’s po­ten­tial po­lit­i­cal risk, the prov­inces have as­sumed more than they’d like. As both the reg­u­la­tor and re­tailer, prov­inces will shoul­der the blame for prob­lems that seem al­most in­evitable when a pop­u­lar prod­uct moves from the il­licit mar­ket­place to a le­gal, reg­u­lated and govern­ment-run op­er­a­tion. That hasn’t been at­tempted in Canada since 1920 when the twoyear ex­per­i­ment with al­co­hol pro­hi­bi­tion ended. The fed­eral Lib­er­als made Canada just the sec­ond na­tion on earth — af­ter Uruguay — where pot’s le­gal. But, Ot­tawa also deftly down­loaded the heavy lift­ing to the prov­inces, who can spot a cash cow from any dis­tance, so they didn’t com­plain much. The il­licit cannabis trade in Canada is said to be val­ued at more than $5 bil­lion an­nu­ally, and most ex­perts say the le­gal trade will even­tu­ally sur­pass that num­ber, but only if the il­le­gal pot busi­ness is se­verely cur­tailed. The prov­inces will take on that job with gusto once they be­come the seller. Prov­inces brook no com­pe­ti­tion, le­gal or il­le­gal. The coun­try will be a patch­work of reg­u­la­tions and re­tail mod­els on Oct. 17, but across At­lantic Canada the cannabis mar­ket­place is fairly uni­form. All four gov­ern­ments handed the sales job to their liquor cor­po­ra­tions, which will ei­ther ped­dle the stuff them­selves, or in the case of New­found­land and Labrador mix in some li­cenced pri­vate re­tail­ers. Ei­ther way, the prov­inces are knee-deep in the pot busi­ness, and if the busi­ness is done poorly — if there are sup­ply prob­lems or if lim­ited re­tail ca­pac­ity re­sults in bad ser­vice — the prov­inces will wear it. How much, if any, po­lit­i­cal dam­age pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments will suf­fer if they turn out to be lousy pot deal­ers is any­body’s guess. There are no ex­am­ples to draw on. Pot is le­gal in nine U.S. states, but in Amer­ica gov­ern­ments don’t sell stuff. Canada is the global test case. Le­gal­iza­tion could af­fect crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity, pub­lic health and much more, so gov­ern­ments, busi­nesses and re­searchers around the world are watch­ing. Ot­tawa po­si­tioned le­gal­iza­tion as the way to take a bit out of or­ga­nized crime and — through strict reg­u­la­tion — keep pot away from kids. Fail­ure on ei­ther of those fronts, par­tic­u­larly the more vis­i­ble prob­lem of kids us­ing pot could cost the Lib­er­als dearly. The fed­eral govern­ment is also po­lit­i­cally vul­ner­a­ble if the busi­ness of pot takes on a Gritty crim­son hue. It’s not hard to find prom­i­nent Lib­er­als tucked into pot-re­lated en­ter­prises, but it’s not hard to find prom­i­nent Lib­er­als any­where in Cana­dian busi­ness, so the Lib­er­als’ ha­bit­ual weak­ness for play­ing favourites is not a pot prob­lem for them, yet. But that will be watched by op­po­si­tion par­ties and the news me­dia. The bot­tom line is a solid ma­jor­ity of Cana­di­ans favour le­gal­iza­tion for recre­ational use. That same ma­jor­ity wants it done right, mean­ing keep it away from kids, keep high driv­ers off the roads, limit or pro­hibit con­sump­tion in pub­lic places, and make sure the prod­uct is safe. If those boxes are checked, and Ot­tawa doesn’t play favourites on the busi­ness side, the fed­eral Lib­er­als are home free. Blow it, and they will face the wrath of Cana­di­ans. The prov­inces need to check some of those same boxes, plus de­liver the prod­uct, but even if they fail the busi­ness test early on, the ex­tent of po­lit­i­cal dam­age is un­known and likely lim­ited. Most fair-minded cit­i­zens will al­low a pe­riod of tran­si­tion, but af­ter that, whether they use cannabis or not, peo­ple will ex­pect ef­fi­cient govern­ment op­er­a­tions. There will be quan­tifi­able re­sults soon enough, but then it will be time for edi­bles to hit the mar­ket­place bring­ing a whole new level of un­cer­tainty.

AARON BESWICK • THE CHRON­I­CLE HER­ALD

This mar­i­juana in High­land Grown’s se­cure Antigo­nish County fa­cil­ity is nearly ready for har­vest.

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