Marijuanopoly: Why I’m adding my voice to Canada’s cannabis debate

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On Monday, Marc and Jodie Emery,  Canada’s “Prince and Princess of Pot”, plead guilty to two charges; possession of cannabis for the purposes of trafficking, and possession of proceeds from crime. While they did not receive any jail time, they will both be on probation for two years, and have been hit with a combined fine of $390,000. Both Marc and Jodie have dedicated their lives to advocating for the reversal of cannabis prohibition. Despite seeing their life’s work finally coming to light, criminal records will prohibit them from entering the soon to be legal cannabis market in Canada.

Like Marc and Jodie, many experts in Canadian cannabis are currently unlicensed growers and distributors. Technically, these small to medium sized businesses have been, and are, operating illegally under Federal law. However, provincial and municipal governments have historically had little incentive to strictly police such businesses. With the legislation of cannabis just around the corner and new found economic incentives attached to policing these business, we will likely see a hard crack down on unlicensed growers and distributors. Eliminating the competition is just one example of how our  provincial governments are attempting to secure a strong monopoly over a promising emerging global market.

Lets take Ontario as an example. Following the financial success of their monopolisation of the alcohol market through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), the government recently passed the Cannabis Act, creating a provincial agency for the retail of cannabis online and through store fronts. The Act also gives policing authorities the mandate to swiftly eliminate any business competition. People and businesses that operate in parallel to government run retailers could be hit with hefty fines and/or jail time. Most disturbingly, the Act infringes on civil liberties by allowing police units to close down the competition before they are convicted of any charge…I guess the presumption of innocence under Article 11 of the Declaration of Human Rights does not apply when the government is operating within a conflict of interest eh?

Article 11.

(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

After the passing of Ontario’s Cannabis Act, Theo Moudakis captured the sentiment across the province perfectly in his Marijuana Monopoly cartoon in the December 14th issue of The Star. If other provincial governments follow Ontario’s questionably corrupt example, the experts of Canadian cannabis could soon be out of business and hit with criminal charges that would inhibit their re-entry to the market.

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You might be asking why these currently illegal entities don’t just start operating legally. Well, the reason there are so many unlicensed businesses currently in operation across Canada is largely because the federal application process for becoming licensed is very stringent and time intensive. Like in most markets, large scale business with a significant amount of capital tend to face little challenges in becoming regulatory compliant, while the little guys face numerous hurdles. This has certainly been the case with the medical cannabis industry in Canada, and will compound both government and big business monopolisation of the recreational market.

Already licensed producers have a massive head start entering the recreational market, and big business monopolisation of the market is good for government monopolisation of the market. By working with a small number of large scale producers, governments can more easily control the market. We have seen this happen across industries time and time again (banking would be the most obvious example).

So far, within the legalisation of marijuana debate across Canada, I have seen little space given to the consumer perspective. I don’t know about you but I’d rather buy my weed from small business owners passionate about what they do – like those associated with Cannabis Growers in Canada – than from people like Toronto’s former police chief Julian Fantino, who once ignorantly compared legalizing marijuana to legalizing murder. As a consumer, I would also like to ensure high product quality, and would enjoy the freedom of product choice created by a diversified market. The monopolisation of the legal cannabis market that we are already seeing sweep across Canada will offer little benefits to the consumer.

Consumer perspective aside, this debate is about more than just cannabis. I am not personally starting to engage in this debate because I want to smoke good quality weed when I am in Canada (mom I am talking to you as you scowl reading this). I am engaging in this debate because it is ultimately about the society that I want to live in. This is about preserving space for small businesses and generating wealth within communities. This is about environmental sustainability and environmentally responsible agriculture. This is about holding governments accountable and demanding a system that serves the interest of people first. This is about protecting democracy and civil liberties. This is about doing harm reduction and primary prevention right. This is about shining light on truth by de-stigmatizing both people that have been criminalised for cannabis related offences, and a plant that has been scientifically proven to be relatively harmless and helpful. For these reasons and more, I intend to add my voice to this debate.

Activists like Marc and Jodie have admirably sacrificed much to move the legalisation debate to where it is today (if you are in a position to give back to them consider helping them cover the costs of their hefty fines here). While our governments and big business are actively trying to push them out of what they helped create, they will not be silenced! This will awaken a new generation of activists. A generation of activists that will find strength and success in shared values and ideology.

~Robyn Waite (December 20, 2017)

 

 

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