Quotulatiousness

October 20, 2017

Justin Trudeau’s government at the two-year mark

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Paul Wells nicely lists all the good things the Trudeau government has managed to do during the first two years of its mandate, then gets down to the other side of the balance sheet:

The worse continues to pile up. I see no way the rushed and timid legalization of cannabis will drain the black market and, in hardening more penalties than it relaxes, it seems certain to provide busywork for police who have been asking only to be freed up to tackle more serious problems. (An internal Ontario government memo reaches the same conclusions.)

Since it’s impossible to find anyone in the government who’s conspicuous for saying no to any proposed spending spree, it’s a near dead-lock certainty that Canada will become a nursery for white elephants — and, unless this generation of public administrators is luckier than any previous generation, for corruption, somewhere in the system.

The government’s appointments system is, as one former staffer told me this week, “just a little f–ked,” with backlogs as far as the eye can see. There’s a serious bottleneck for important decisions, with the choke point in the Prime Minister’s Office. Rookie ministers, which is most of them, are held close. Those who don’t perform are sent new staffers from the PMO: career growth comes from the centre, not the bottom.

A cabinet full of political neophytes — and there is nothing Trudeau could have done to avoid that, given how few seats he had before 2015 — has been trained to cling for dear life to talking points. The result is unsettling: most of the cabinet simply ignores any specific question and charges ahead with the day’s message, conveying the unmistakable impression they are not as bright as — given their achievements before politics — they must surely be. Or that they think their audience isn’t. I doubt this is what anyone intends, but by now it’s deeply baked into the learned reflexes of this government.

Then there is this tax mess. I’m agnostic on the policy question: in my own life I’ve been spectacularly unimaginative in organizing my finances for minimal taxation. I put all the book money into RRSPs, called my condo an office for the two years I used it as one, and that was the end of that. But the summer tax adventure has left the Liberals with their hair on fire, for two broad reasons. One is that Bill Morneau’s personal financial arrangements are becoming surreal. The other is the way the project — and especially the life stories of its stewards, Trudeau and Morneau — undermined the Liberals’ claim to be champions of the middle class.

Wells very kindly doesn’t mention the ongoing flustercluck that is our military procurement “system” (which to be fair, the Liberals did inherit from the Harper Conservatives), which has gotten worse rather than better — and only part of that is due to Trudeau’s trumpeted “No F-35s” election pledge. The Royal Canadian Navy seem no closer to getting the new ships they so desperately need (aside from the Project Resolve supply ship, which the government had to be arm-twisted into accepting), and the government hasn’t yet narrowed down the surface combatant requirements enough to select a design.

September 19, 2017

Ontario is getting exactly what they deserve in legalized marijuana

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Pessimists, you can collect your winnings at the till. Optimists? Haven’t you learned yet? You expected a vibrant, dynamic free market in pot where your favourite budtender would be able to offer you a wide selection of high quality product to choose from? Forget it, Jake, it’s Ontario. Chris Selley explains why the pessimists got it right in the betting on how Ontario would choose to implement the legal marijuana market in 2018:

For nearly 15 years, I and other free market lunatics have been trying to impress upon Ontarians just how insane our liquor retail system is. Yet we still hear the same ludicrous arguments in its favour. “The LCBO makes tons of money for the province.” (Alberta makes tons of money from liquor sales too, without owning a single store.) “Public employees can be trusted to keep booze out of children’s hands.” (The Beer Store isn’t public. Nor are the scores of privately run “agency stores” in rural areas across Ontario.) “The LCBO provides good jobs.” (Not to real product experts it doesn’t — they would be far better off in a free market jurisdiction. And if the government’s role is to make good retail jobs, why not nationalize groceries?) “LCBO stores are pleasant. Liquor stores in the U.S. are gross.” (Nope! You’re just going to the wrong liquor stores.)

This hopeless mess is the foundation for Ontario’s new marijuana plan — and we’re hearing the same arguments in its favour. Last week, two columnists in the Toronto Star and one in the Globe and Mail spoke approvingly of the fact it would create “good unionized jobs.” The two Star columnists also mentioned the money that would accrue to the treasury.

“I’m fine with the profits going to the public purse instead of private businesspeople,” wrote one.

“Why wouldn’t the government seek to maximize revenues in the same way that it profits from alcohol and tobacco sales?” asked the other.

Even after all these years, it makes me want to tear my hair out: for the love of heaven, the “high-paying jobs” motive and the “profit” motive are at odds with each other. You cannot claim both as priorities. One way or the other, the government will take its cut on marijuana sales. The overhead costs of running its own stores, paying its own employees government wages, will simply eat into that cut.

If you can live with Ontario’s liquor situation, but you think your favourite budtender should be able to get a government licence to keep her “dispensary” up and running after legalization kicks in, my sympathy is non-existent. You either support consumer choice or you don’t. Ontario doesn’t, and that will never change until tipplers and tokers take up arms together.

September 16, 2017

It’s “as if Justin Trudeau had just invented marijuana, and the stuff’s mystical properties are unfamiliar to every police officer in the land”

Filed under: Cancon, Health, Law, Liberty — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

As the old joke had it, marijuana can cause paranoia, confusion, and total loss of reality in people who’ve never taken them. Canadian police organizations are desperate to keep legal marijuana from becoming a thing:

I cannot be the only one who feels the world is a little upside-down after Wednesday’s hearings on marijuana held by the House of Commons standing committee on health. The day’s proceedings were essentially broken into two parts. First, high-ranking Canadian police came before the committee to complain that they didn’t have the technical resources or the training to deal with legalized marijuana. They pleaded for the passage of the Liberals’ Cannabis Act to be delayed.

Then officials and scholars from the states of Colorado and Washington appeared to talk about their initial experiences with legalized marijuana. The contrast was remarkable. Canadian cops are behaving as if marijuana is a new problem for them—as if Justin Trudeau had just invented marijuana, and the stuff’s mystical properties are unfamiliar to every police officer in the land. The general thrust of the American testimony was not in conflict with the police demand to delay the legislation. Indeed, their major messages included going slow, getting it right, and learning from the history of the pot states. But none of the American witnesses, particularly the Washington and Colorado revenue bean-counters, showed any particular appetite for going back to the days of prohibition.

They could have come to Canada and said, “Oh, God, what are you crazy SOBs thinking?” There was little evidence of any such sentiment. I think it is safe to say that committee members who favour legalization, or who are anything other than implacably hostile to it, must have come away from the testimony broadly reassured.

Washington and Colorado have not descended into a nightmare of chaos because they have legalized “recreational marijuana.” By most social measures these states are about what they were before legalization. Youth use of pot is being watched closely, and it appears to be steady, possibly reduced. The states’ coffers have seen a modest benefit, and some of the money from pot taxation is made available for general drug education and abuse prevention—not just the more intensive outreach to young people about weed.

July 29, 2017

Things to keep firmly in mind before investing in legalized marijuana markets

Filed under: Business, Economics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

There will definitely be money to be made as more and more jurisdictions move to legalize marijuana, but it’s not going to be like soup raining down from heaven — it’s not going to be a simple as just grabbing a bucket:

Here are Coyote’s first three rules of business strategy:

  1. If people are entering the business for personal, passionate, non-monetary reasons then the business is likely going to suck. When I say “suck”, I mean there may be revenues and customers and even some profits, but that the returns on investment are going to be bad**. Typically, the supply of products and services and the competitive intensity in an industry will equilibrate over time — if profits are bad, some competitors exit and the supply glut eases. But if people really love the industry and do not want to work anywhere else and get emotional benefits from working there, there always tends to be an oversupply problem. For decades, maybe its whole history, the airline industry was like this. The restaurant industry is this way as well. The brew pub industry is really, really like this — go to any city and check the list of small businesses for sale, and an absurd number will be brew pubs.
  2. If the business is frequently featured in the media as the up and coming place to be and the hot place to work, stay away. Having the media advertising for new entrants is only going to increase the competitive intensity and exacerbate the oversupply problem that every fast-growing industry inevitably faces as it matures.
  3. Beware the lottery effect — One or two people who made fortunes in the business mask the thousands who lost money (Freakonomics had an article on the drug trade positing that it works just this way — while assumes the illegal drug trade makes everyone in it rich, in fact only a few really do so and the vast majority are and always will be grinders making little money for high risk). Even those people who made tons of money in hot businesses sometimes just had good timing to get out at the right time before the reckoning came. Mark Cuban is famous as an internet billionaire, but in fact Broadcast.com, which he sold for over $5 billion to Yahoo, only had revenues in its last independent quarter of about $14 million and was losing money (that’s barely four times larger than my small company).

When I was at Harvard Business School, the first two cases in the first week of strategy class were a really cool high-tech semiconductor fab and a company that makes brass water meters that are sold to utilities. After we had read the cases but before we discussed them, the professor asked us which company we would like to work for. Everyone wanted the tech firm. But as we worked through the cases, it became clear that the semiconductor firm had an almost impossible profitability problem, while Rockwell water meters minted money. I never forgot that lesson — seemingly boring industries could be quite attractive, and this lesson was later hammered home for me as I later was VP of corporate strategy for Emerson Electric, a company that was built around making money from boring but profitable industrial products businesses.

[…]

** You can tell I have classical training in business strategy because my goal is return on investment. One can argue, perhaps snarkily but also somewhat accurately, that there is a new school of thought that does not care about profitability, revenues, or return on investment but on getting larger and larger valuations from private investors based on either user counts or just general buzz. I am entirely unschooled in this modern form of strategy. However, the general strategy of getting someone to overpay for something from you is as old as time. I mentioned Mark Cuban but there are many other examples. Donald Trump seems to have made a lot of money from a related strategy of fleecing his debt holders.

July 28, 2017

13 Reasons Jeff Sessions is a @$#/!

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on Jul 27, 2017

Jeff Sessions is on the ropes with Donald Trump. Good.

The president is pissed because Sessions recused himself from the investigation of Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election. But here are a baker’s dozen of reasons to hate the attorney general, including his obsession with restarting the war on pot, his call to jack up mandatory minimums, and his support for civil asset forfeiture. Then there’s his lack of interest in due process, willingness to subvert state’s rights when they conflict with his desired outcome, and desire to lengthen prison terms for non-violent criminals. Also, he might be some kind of statist elf.
—–
During Sessions’ confirmation hearings, Democrats claimed the former Alabama senator was unfit for office because he was a racist, charges that were never really substantiated. But Sessions’ voting record and policy agenda are more than enough to disqualify him from being the nation’s top law enforcement officer.

Mostly Weekly is hosted by Andrew Heaton and written by Sarah Rose Siskind.

Edited by Austin Bragg and Sarah Rose Siskind.

Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.

Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

June 29, 2017

Words & Numbers – Just Say No to the War on Drugs

Published on 28 Jun 2017

Ted Cruz recently asserted that the United States military needs to be sent to Mexico to attack the drug cartels head-on.

This is a bad idea. But so is the drug war itself, both constitutionally and logically.

Forty-six years and one trillion dollars after its start, President Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs is still going, with 300,000 people currently in jail on drug charges. Meanwhile, 26 times as many people suffer from alcoholism as do heroin abuse, and eight times as many die from alcohol abuse as do heroin.

Many who support the war do so with the best of intentions, but has it really helped? Or has it done more harm than good, like the Prohibition of the 1920s? Is this war even legal in the first place?

James Harrigan and Antony Davies discuss these questions in this week’s Words and Numbers. Watch the conversation below or on our YouTube channel, or listen to it on SoundCloud.

May 19, 2017

Marijuana use promotes incoherence … on the part of non-users

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Liberty, Science, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Chris Selley rounds up some of the less-than-realistic concerns of the anti-legalization folks:

The move toward marijuana legalization is … still not as coherent as it could be, let’s say. The Liberal legislation, unveiled last month, would establish rules around THC-impaired driving that may well prove unconstitutional: science has yet to establish a solid link between a given level of THC concentration in a driver’s blood or saliva and his level of impairment. Frustratingly, there are still those who use this as an argument against legalization — as if it would create pot-impaired drivers where there are none today.

Last week on CTV’s Question Period, host Evan Solomon asked former U.S. ambassador Bruce Heyman what would happen if someone showed up to the border with his car or his clothes smelling of marijuana. It’s a variation of a question that’s been asked often: As it stands, Canadians who admit having smoked marijuana in the past are sometimes turned back. What would happen after legalization?

The de facto answer is, as always: Whatever the hell the U.S. border guard in question wants to happen. (It amazes me how many Canadians haven’t yet figured this out.) And furthermore: “Don’t rock up to the U.S. border reeking of pot, you utterly unsympathetic tool.”

The de jure answer: Well, who knows? Why would Canada’s decision to legalize marijuana have any bearing on the admissibility of foreign pot-smokers to the United States of America?

Heyman’s answers were more, er, nuanced than mine. Bafflingly, he started talking about sniffer dogs and their performance limitations: They won’t care that pot’s legal, so they’ll still detect marijuana, and that will bog down the border.

Now, marijuana legalization certainly might lead to a bogged-down border — if humans, not canines, decide to bog it down. For example, one can imagine Donald Trump thinking legalization necessitated much more aggressive screening of incoming motorists, and not caring too much about the trade implications. Whether that makes any sense is another question.

April 15, 2017

Federal marijuana bill “is about as good a framework as we had any right to expect”

Filed under: Cancon, Health, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Chris Selley looks at the Trudeau government’s marijuana legalization framework, as revealed on Thursday:

The fact is, though, this is about as good a framework as we had any right to expect from the Canadian government. The feds will insist upon a safe and controlled supply chain, with licenses and inspections; you may keep four plants at home — an indulgence I would have bet against; promotional materials will be severely restricted in much the same way as for tobacco; the minimum age will be 18; and the maximum limit on the amount of dried flower you can carry around in public will be 30 grams — same as it is in Washington state and Colorado.

Retail and all the questions that go with it are the provinces’ problem, just as they should be. (In theory, a buzz-kill province could set the legal age at 105 and the public possession limit at zero, though the government says mail order would be available in provinces that don’t have a retail sector.)

The feds will balance out all this wanton permissiveness with tough talk of putting “organized crime” out of business and protecting our children from weed. (The maximum sentence for giving marijuana to a minor is 14 years in prison!)

And now we see whether it actually happens — by summer 2018, or at all.

The news Thursday was full of worries and concerns and potential reasons why it might not. They range from legitimate-but-surmountable to downright silly.

Yes, the science of THC impairment behind the wheel is inexact. So I guess pot-consuming car-drivers had better take that under advisement. THC-impaired driving is already illegal, after all.

There is the bewilderingly persistent supposed issue of Canada’s obligation to prohibit drugs under UN conventions on narcotic and psychotropic substances. This week, the University of Ottawa’s Global Strategy Lab released a 27-page paper explaining “how Canada can remain party to the conventions without either withdrawing … or amending them.” It’s all very interesting, but why not just withdraw from the damn things?

[…]

Frankly, I’m amazed the Liberals have come even this far at a time when they’re walking on eggshells around the Trump administration. To the extent it has articulated a pot policy, it has been the opposite of the relatively laissez-faire approach the Obama administration took toward states that decided to legalize. Attorney-General Jeff Sessions talks about marijuana the way General Ripper in Dr. Strangelove talks about communists.

That will make legalization all the more impressive an achievement if the Liberals pull it off — and all the more damaging a self-inflicted wound if they don’t.

April 6, 2017

On legalization the feds are headed the wrong way

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Libertarian Party of Canada leader Tim Moen looks at the public safety aspects of Justin Trudeau’s marijuana legalization plans:

If we are concerned about public safety we need to make it more attractive for people to grow, distribute and consume cannabis legally than illegally so that there is engagement with public safety mechanisms. Right now it is far more attractive for people to grow and consume illegally. Cannabis is easy to produce, you just need seeds and dirt, and there is a high demand for it. A regime that restricts legal supply through onerous licensing and prohibitions will drive up illegal supply to meet the demand.

We were seeing a trend towards improved public safety. Storefronts offered customers a safe place to buy cannabis from businesses that had a vested interest in developing a reputation for quality and safety. Small- to medium-sized growers have been operating in the sunlight where public safety officials like me could inspect and educate. Cannabis was emerging from the shadows and the problems associated with illicit activity were fading away.

All the Trudeau government had to do was notice what was going on and end the rules that made it difficult for public safety to emerge. Instead, over the past month we have seen a hard crackdown on storefront cannabis dispensaries. Coordinated raids have occurred across the country and some business owners are facing financial ruination and life in prison at the same time the Trudeau government has announced legalization by the summer of 2018. The message to the cannabis industry is loud and clear, “Fall in line with the regime, or else.”

The federal government is poised to adopt the report of The Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation as the way forward and this is cause for serious concern from a public safety perspective. The Task Force recommends a requirement for a federal license to grow cannabis commercially. If you’re one of the hundreds of small- to medium-sized dispensaries currently operating in the sunlight your days are numbered. If you are a customer of one of these dispensaries you will be faced with a choice of big government-approved corporation or local black market dealer.

It’s not clear why customers would choose the low quality, limited access, unreliable cannabis that a few big government-approved corporations would provide over locally grown craft cannabis. Imagine if growing tomatoes required a federal license and there was a coordinated effort to raid local growers and sellers who did not have a federal license. Would people stop putting tomato seeds in dirt? Would people drive past an unlicensed farmer selling big, fresh, juicy tomatoes from a roadside stand on their way to a licensed grocery store which may have some small, pale, nearly-spoiled tomatoes in stock? It is naive to imagine people are going to follow stupid rules that they can easily avoid following, yet this naivety has permeated cannabis prohibitionism and continues to permeate the thinking of cannabis legislators.

March 31, 2017

The likely impact of legalized marijuana on healthcare costs

Filed under: Cancon, Health, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh, a self-confessed hardcore druggie (okay, he admits “I’m not a big pot smoker, although it is a point of honour with me to admit in print that I have done it plenty of times”), on some interesting aspects of next year’s “Cannabis Day” legalization target:

What leapt out at me in [recently elected MP and former cop Glen] Motz’s stream of consciousness was a claim that “health-care costs are starting to rise” in the recreational-marijuana states. What could this mean? The U.S. doesn’t have single-payer universal public healthcare, and its programs for the poor, the aged, and veterans are all administered federally. But if Motz wants to bring up health-care costs, we can certainly go there.

    They found that when individual states legalized medical marijuana (as 28 now have), doctors in those states began to fill fewer prescriptions addressing medical conditions for which there is some evidence that marijuana might help — anxiety, nausea, seizures, and the like

One of the most remarkable economic findings of any kind on piecemeal marijuana acceptance in the U.S. appeared in the journal Health Affairs last July. It became famous almost immediately as the “Medicare Part D study”: two policy specialists at the University of Georgia in Athens looked at data on 87 million pharmaceutical prescriptions paid for by the federal government from 2010 to 2013. They found that when individual states legalized medical marijuana (as 28 now have), doctors in those states began to fill fewer prescriptions addressing medical conditions for which there is some evidence that marijuana might help — anxiety, nausea, seizures, and the like.

By “fewer” I mean “a lot fewer.” The study estimated, for example, that medical marijuana reduced prescriptions for pain medication by about 1,800 per physician per year. That estimate could be off by an order of magnitude and still be pretty impressive. It is only one study, but when the researchers double-checked their results by looking at conditions that nobody thinks marijuana is indicated for, they found no declines in prescribing.

Marijuana is still an outlawed Schedule I drug under U.S. federal law, doctors even in medical-marijuana states “recommend” the stuff rather than formally prescribing it, and patients have to pay for it. Moreover, pot may be relatively unpopular with the (mostly pension-age) Medicare-eligible population. The Medicare Part D study shows, if nothing else, that American medicine is already making heavy professional use of marijuana. The authors think it might have saved Medicare half a billion dollars over the four-year study period. Perhaps there are concomitant harms that this study does not account for. It is hard for me to imagine what they might be, but I am not a politician.

March 29, 2017

The long political road to a legalized marijuana market

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Chris Selley discusses the federal government’s much-hinted-at full legalization plan which is expected to be implemented in time for Canada Day next year, and what it means for the existing quasi-legal market:

In any event, the legislation will have the benefit of forcing the provinces finally to come to grips with their policy preferences.

[…]

The others will soon have to follow suit. And they should be considering what to do if legalization doesn’t happen, as well. Tabling the legislation and any associated boosterism is only going to energize the open black market that has flourished in Canadian cities’ storefronts under the polite fiction of “dispensaries,” making a hollow mockery of the law.

The cries of injustice when police bust these businesses have been silly. Policing marijuana isn’t a great use of resources at any time, if you ask me, but a Liberal campaign promise isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on; it’s certainly not a legal defence. If you’re a “budtender” working for minimum wage in a “dispensary,” now would be a good time to realize that, under the law, you’re a minimum wage drug dealer.

In Toronto, it has been instructive, if not surprising, to see that the dispensary model works. People value the expertise, the variety of retail environments, the fact it’s not some dodgy dude on a bike who wants to hang out for an hour. The only things wrong with the model are byproducts of prohibition: lots of cash on hand makes them a target for robberies, for example, which often go unreported.

Across the country, people are happily buying marijuana the way people in jurisdictions all over the world (though certainly not in Ontario) buy their other intoxicants of choice.

That’s a lesson for Canadian jurisdictions to learn if the Liberals legalize marijuana: the private sector can handle it. And it’s a lesson if it stays illegal, too. The law is the law, but if Ottawa’s going to encourage people to break it, the ensuing mess doesn’t have to be the provinces’ problem.

Instead of enforcing it very sporadically, they could just not enforce it at all. Better yet, under such a policy, they could try to remedy some of the problems that prohibition creates in the storefront market.

March 25, 2017

Trump Can’t Stop Marijuana Legalization (But He Can Slow it Down)

Filed under: Government, Health, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 23 Mar 2017

“The Trump administration can slow down marijuana legalization, but they can’t stop it.” says Reason Senior Editor Jacob Sullum.

Trump already endorsed medical marijuana on the campaign trail, and said that states should be free to legalize it, but his appointment of old school drug warrior Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General is cause for concern.

“First of all the, federal government doesn’t have the power to force states to make marijuana legal again.” They could sue to knock down state regulations, but that would simply leave behind a legal but unregulated market. The feds don’t have the manpower to crack down on the local level, and there’s very little upside for the administration to roll back legalization. “They can create a lot of chaos, but ultimately they’re not going to reverse legalization and bring back prohibition”

Produced by Austin and Meredith Bragg

March 23, 2017

Words & Numbers: We’re Becoming a Nation of Pets

Filed under: Economics, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 22 Mar 2017

This week, Antony & James take on the idea of “victimless crimes” and discuss the odd and growing trend of governments regulating some private activities such as pornography, while others like smoking marijuana are increasingly allowed. People imposing their values on others seems to boil down to an inability to appreciate that others have different preferences, but it all results in Americans losing freedom and instead becoming a nation of pets.

Learn more here:
https://fee.org/articles/were-becoming-a-nation-of-pets/
http://www.antolin-davies.com/research/trib0217.pdf
http://www.antolin-davies.com/research/philly0317.pdf

February 24, 2017

Well it is the twenty-first century after all…

Filed under: Business, Personal — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Hey guys! I just bought marijuana for the very first time!

A thousand shares of a legal marijuana grower called Aphria, Inc. I am so conflicted — I don’t know whether I should feel counter-cultural or conformist…

I sold my last remaining Blackberry shares to cover most of the cost of the purchase, which (given Blackberry’s shrinking technological niche) was a bit of a relief.

Legal notice: Nothing in the above post should be considered in any way to be professional financial investment advice.

January 16, 2017

QotD: The process of de facto legalization of marijuana in Vancouver

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Law, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Despite the fact that I don’t smoke pot — because if I do I will be asleep in approximately three minutes — I have long advocated complete legalization. Largely for libertarian reasons but also because the criminal law is essentially unenforceable. But the medical marijuana regulatory scheme interests me as a grand example of government getting something entirely wrong.

The original medical marijuana regulations allowed people to buy from a single supplier or grow their own or designate a grower. While the system was far from perfect, and found to be unconstitutional, it had the advantage of regulating with a very light hand. But, oh Heavens, there was “leakage”. Medical pot was not always only used by medical users. Yikes.

So Health Canada came up with a regulatory scheme which was going to licence grower/distributors and put the users and their growers out of business. Enter Big Green and a bunch of promoters who sold shares in publicly listed companies based on the new regulations. The promoters made a lot of money using a simple story: there were 45,000 medical pot users in Canada (projected to grow to 450,000 users in a decade) who each used about 3 grams a day and who would have no choice but to pay between $8 and $15 a gram for their “medicine”. You do the math.

To my not very great surprise, people used to paying $0 to $5.00 a gram did not rush to sign up. And, very quickly, at least in Vancouver, pot shops – for registered users only of course – began to spring up. Becoming a registered user was not tough. As the 5th Estate guy discovered, telling a naturopath a charming story about stress and sleep disturbance over Skype gets you your registration. At which point you are free to buy. (I note the 5th Estate did not ask the pot shop owners where they were getting their pot – which is a rather good question because it is certainly not from the licenced growers as they are not allowed to sell except by mail order.)

As anyone who has lived in Vancouver knows, the Vancouver Police Department has better things to do than bust dispensaries. Plus, given the injunction halting enforcement of the Health Canada regs, it is not obvious what they would bust the dispensaries for that would have a chance of getting past the Crown. But even if they did bust the dispensary and even if the Crown brought charges, it is pretty difficult to see how a judge could find a person guilty who was selling to a registered user.

The problem is that the boffins at Health Canada have not quite figured out that their regulations are assuming a world which does not exist. First, they assume that people want to smoke “legal pot”. That might be true if police forces were in the habit of kicking down doors to arrest people smoking pot at home but, I fear, that hasn’t happened in years. (It may occasionally occur as a means of harassment but the probable cause issue is usually sufficient to kick the charges.)

Jay Currie, “Gone to Pot”, Jay Currie, 2015-06-15.

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