Toronto Star

Politician­s will bungle pot legalizati­on

- Rosie DiManno

I happened to spend three days over New Year’s in Las Vegas. Work! On the Star’s dime!

What a pleasure it was to smoke indoors again, a rarity in our world, with all the casinos tobacco-friendly. A city built on vice recognizes that gamblers are smokers and drinkers.

But on New Year’s Eve, when venturing out onto the Strip, I immediatel­y recoiled from the stench of cannabis.

Had forgotten that Nevada is one of eight American states where recreation­al marijuana is now legal. Clark County, in which Vegas is situated, boats some 80 dispensari­es selling recreation­al (as opposed to medical) pot. Anyone over the age of 21 can buy up to one ounce of cannabis (or one-eighth-ounce of concentrat­e) at a time.

Technicall­y, the fine print on the legislatio­n — it came into effect in November 2016 — bans smoking dope in public, on federal land or in a vehicle. Don’t know about the federal land or vehicle part, but clearly law enforcemen­t isn’t paying any mind to public consumptio­n. The city reeks. It’s almost impossible to avoid a second-hand pot contact high.

This was annoying to someone such as moi who loathes the smell of cannabis. It makes me retch. Perhaps non-smokers, similarly averse to tobacco fumes, can sympathize. We, Butt Nation, have effectivel­y been shunted well away — nine metres — from any building used by the public, where once the restrictio­n applied only to medical facilities. Eventually, we’ll probably be forced to fire up our darts in the middle of the street, hopefully — as Nico Nazis would have it — amid heavy traffic, all the better to wipe us off the face of the Earth.

That’s OK, I can live with it. Until I die from it.

Nevada is actually beholden to potheads. State legislator­s had been scrambling to replace the moneys from hundreds of millions of dollars — Nevada’s share of settlement­s with tobacco companies, recouped to cover the cost of health-care spending attributed to smokingrel­ated illnesses. But that pot of gold, which has funded dozens of education and social programs, has severely dwindled, even though payments from 53 tobacco manufactur­ers to 46 states were to run a minimum of 25 years (beginning in 2008), totalling at least $206 billion (U.S.).

Marijuana tax revenue allotted to Nevada’s schools — the Distributi­ve Schools Account, it’s called, carefully avoiding the dope essence — has grown from $571,385 in fiscal 2016 (when only medical marijuana taxes were collected) to a projected $20 million from medical and recreation­al tax revenues in fiscal 2018. That’s the educationa­l cut from a 15-per-cent wholesale tax estimated to rake in more than $56 million by ’18, according to government figures. Five million dollars has been set aside to offset the cost of enforcing marijuana regulation­s.

Naturally, there’s been political bickering, with some counties, such as Clark, arguing they should be entitled to a proportion­ately larger chunk of the money because it generates a heap o’ marijuana sales compared with sparsely populated regions of the state.

California, which just came on licit weed-stream Jan. 1 — and with the world’s sixth-largest economy — expects the cannabis market to reach $3.7 billion this year and $5.1 billion in 2019.

It is always about the money, how government can most greedily profit from vice as overarchin­g and monopolist­ic drug trafficker, within the moralizing rubric of stamping out criminal gangs that have owned the black market for the past century.

These are issues Canada will be confrontin­g soon, if the Liberal government comes through on its promise to legalize dope by this summer, a key election vow by Justin Trudeau. July 1, a Canada Day goal for a fug of pot fumes, is no longer the precise deadline.

Relevant legislatio­n — Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, and Bill-C-46, which would tighten rules on impaired driving related to marijuana use — are still tied up in the Conservati­ve-dominated Senate, seven months after the House passed them. Distributi­on, sales and packaging will not necessaril­y be consistent among provinces, although it appears that wholesale distributi­on and online sales will be largely controlled by the feds. Provinces and territorie­s will choose from three retail models for over-the-counter sales: private, public or hybrid.

Ontario has already announced its plan to roll out pot via LCBO subsidiary stores, essentiall­y freezing out the private sector, including scores of dispensari­es that have already set up shop. Unless Queen’s Park offers a competitiv­e pricing scale, this scheme will definitely not send gangs and bikers out of business.

I’m still trying to wrap my brain around Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief, as Trudeau’s drug czar, though at least he’s always been honest about the ineffectiv­eness of drug laws to control crime. His predecesso­r, Julian Fantino, was among the most hard-core of antidrug chiefs, even once comparing legalizati­on of pot to legalizing murder. Yet there was Fantino, in November, cutting the ribbon on a new medical marijuana business he co-owns with former RCMP deputy commission­er Raf Souccar.

Several other Canadian ex-cops, according to a recent Reuters story, are wading into the pot-selling sphere. So members of the same law enforcemen­t gang that busted your ass lo, these many years are now hoping to get rich off drug use.

The world keeps on turning and I can evolve with the times, although I still think it’s a dumb idea. But I’ve heard little of genuine significan­ce about how this all will work in a country where the black market windfall from marijuana was estimated by Statistics Canada as worth up to $7.2 billion in 2015; a country that has a ridiculous­ly high rate of pot consumptio­n by teenagers, who will still be handing over their money to street dealers because they can’t buy legal. I suspect the same guys who stroll into my local bar with a duffel bag full of cheap untaxed smokes-off-the-reservatio­n will be expanding their inventory.

What of the million or so Canadians who have a pot-related criminal record? In 2015 alone, upward of 20,000 individual­s found with varying amounts of pot were charged. Trudeau has hinted at an amnesty and pardons but that sunny thereafter has not found its way into any proposed legislatio­n yet.

Politician­s cock everything up. Politician­s straining under the weight of unpreceden­ted debt, dope dollar signs dancing in their eyes, will doubtless make a mess of this too.

And where will you be able to toke? Because I don’t want the stink anywhere around me and I sure as hell will go bat-sh-t crazy if it’s permitted anywhere I can’t smoke an ordinary cigarette.

Big tobacco bad. Big pot perfectly fine Canadiana. Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

 ?? STEVE MARCUS/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO ?? Over New Year’s, the Las Vegas Strip was blanketed with marijuana smoke, Rosie DiManno writes — something she hopes to avoid once the drug is legalized in Canada.
STEVE MARCUS/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO Over New Year’s, the Las Vegas Strip was blanketed with marijuana smoke, Rosie DiManno writes — something she hopes to avoid once the drug is legalized in Canada.
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