Friday, September 6, 2013

Uruguay Legalization a Model for Canadian Pot?

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I’m afraid so. Like I wrote in a previous post, legalizing marijuana gives the government more tax revenue and regulatory powers. This option should always be discouraged. But as more and more politicians jump on the pro-pot bandwagon, it’s likely that Canadians will have a government-approved marijuana market by the end of the decade. And the South American country of Uruguay may be leading the way. Since the 1930′s they’ve regulated alcohol much in the same way Ontario has. Now they may be the first country to legalize (as well tax and regulate) the marijuana industry.

Uruguay’s new marijuana law is expected to get Senate approval by the end of this month. If it gets the green-light, the Uruguayan government will hold a marijuana monopoly. Bureaucrats will be responsible for licensing growers, sellers and consumers. They will also regulate the imports, production, marketing and distribution of the drug.

The bureau that will regulate the process will also control how much weed consumers can legally buy. The law going through the Senate says that consumers, who must be licensed, can only buy 1.4 ounces a month. Growers must use government-approved seeds (and given the unavoidable calculation problem, I don’t think Uruguayan marijuana will be replacing BC Bud anytime soon). Growers for personal use will have to register with the state; they can only grow up to six plants and cannot harvest more than 17 ounces per year.

Senator Lucia Topolansky, who is also Uruguay’s first lady, told the Associated Press that all this is to protect consumers from “criminal drug traffickers.” In Topolansky’s eyes, the problem with marijuana prohibition isn’t a government failure – it’s a problem with the market. “Marijuana consumers go to dealers where they sell it mixed with more addictive substances, or they sell them something else. It’s a clandestine world where we can’t enter. The state needs to regulate this market, like it did before with alcohol.” Now I can’t speak for Uruguayans, but as a Canadian that’s bought and smoked in several different provinces, I can assure you that dealers don’t mix pot with toxic or addictive substances. Marijuana producers and dealers are entrepreneurs. They serve consumers – if they do a bad job, they go out of business. A dealer in my high school liked to rip people off, and he could get away with it too since the illegality prevented buyers from scrutinizing the product in the open. But once consumers had discovered the rip-off, this particular dealer found little to no buyers. Even if for the sake of argument government regulation is required, Uruguay’s plan to nationalize the industry is one step too many.

Senator Topolansky isn’t shy about the government’s real intentions either. The Uruguayan government has publicly stated that their goal is to lower marijuana consumption by legalizing it, then regulating it. It is in the economic interest of monopolies to restrict production and raise prices. Those still growing and consuming pot in the black market will continued to be punished.

Sound familiar? Liberal leader Justin Trudeau favours marijuana legalization for many of the same reasons. “I’m actually not in favour of decriminalizing cannabis – I’m in favour of legalizing it,” he’s quoted as saying, “Tax and regulate. It’s one of the only ways to keep it out of the hands of our kids.” Of course it’s for the children. Never mind the new taxes and regulatory powers. Government bureaucrats as self-interest individuals? Nah! They’re all-knowing, all-loving angels that only want the best for us. All hail our wise overlords!

The truth of the matter is that Uruguay’s legalization model will not solve the “criminal drug trafficking” problem. Nor will any legalization model Canada likely adopts. There will always be those thwarting any attempt to regulate their behaviour. Why can’t Uruguayans consume more than 1.4 ounces a month? 1.4 ounces may be a lot to smoke, but what if they’re cooking with it, or making medicine? And why do growers have to use government-approved seeds? What makes these seeds superior to the seeds of the “illicit” competitors?

I fear that legalization in Canada will produce a similar model. Canadian pot smokers will have to register their recreational activity with the federal government. Then they’ll have to abide by arbitrary guidelines such as x amount per month or x amount of plants. I wouldn’t be surprised if the federal or the provincial governments got into the marijuana seed business as well. And since they have a coercive monopoly, consumers will be worse off. At least now the marijuana market adheres to supply and demand schedules. There is no monopoly price and no need to register with a third-party. Save for the complications arising from its illegality, marijuana production, investment and consumption is in a free market!

If the federal government legalized marijuana, it wouldn’t change the focus of policing the war on drugs. Now cops would be targeting those violating the marijuana regulations. Cops may divert less resources to marijuana offences, but they’d still have the “duty” to bust pot smokers and growers unregistered with the federal government. And seeing that legalization subjects marijuana to taxes, I can’t see how legalization is a goal worth fighting for.

Why mess with a good thing? Like I wrote previously, the best way to “legalize” marijuana would be to convince your local cops that prohibition is wasteful, corrupt, immoral and impractical. Legalizing marijuana would increase the power and influence of the federal government. Is that really a good idea? Look what they’ve done to health-care. Or what provincial governments have done to education. Or what about Ontario’s LCBO? Is that what the proponents of marijuana legalization really want? Surrendering their freedom of choice to a government entity with a monopoly price? I think for once I might actually agree with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Let’s keep it in the black market.

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