It’s too early for legalisation

Dara Squires
Published on August 20, 2014

Colorado has done it, so why can’t we? Why can’t we take one foreign state’s measures and enact them federally in Canada. After all, marijuana legalisation in Colorado doesn’t seem to have created any great waves.

I’m sure when the prohibition on alcohol ended, we didn’t have a rash of drunk drivers and alcoholics either.

It takes time for the effects of measures like this to be seen. Yes, there are some immediate effects — such as an increase in tax revenues. But when it comes to other effects, studies are split. Some say Colorado teens are less likely now than before legalisation to be smoking marijuana. But other studies show that not only are they more likely to partake, they are also less likely to consider marijuana a harmful drug.

Some studies show that property crime has decreased since legalisation. But on the other hand, drivers who have been in accidents are twice as likely now to have marijuana in their system as before the legalisation trend (even counting for the fact that blood traces of marijuana linger beyond the “high” stage, this rapid increase coupled with a supposed levelling in use is worrisome).

What do all the studies agree on? Crime has indeed dropped, taxes have increased, and while the number of people using marijuana hasn’t increased noticeably, the number of people using daily has. In other words, former recreational users are becoming habitual users. And they’re finding new ways to use — such as edibles, which are more likely to cause overdose situations and more likely to attract children.

Either way you cut it, the state is making money from people’s addiction. And while crime reports may have dropped, I doubt that means less of a crime involvement in the sale of marijuana — they’ve just legitimized the business.

I’m sure organized crime activity dropped after prohibition as well. And yet organized crime and biker gangs control a large number of legal drinking establishments — often using these establishments as legitimate bases for recruitment and other illegal activities.

If, as some Canadian believe, marijuana should be legalized similar to alcohol and tobacco, we need to ask ourselves has the legalisation of alcohol and tobacco been a great thing? Sure, it gives more individual freedom. But it has also led to its own species of crime. From intoxicated driving to cigarette smuggling — we don’t eliminate crime by making something legal.

And, if Colorado is the example we’re going to go by, legalisation and providing a legitimate market comes with a handful of problems. If the state really wants to keep marijuana sales out of the hands of illegal syndicates, the taxes they’ve been reaping in are going to be a factor. It is still cheaper — though slightly harder — to buy illegal marijuana than to pay the taxes on legal marijuana. Although, if, as reports show, there hasn’t been an increase in users, then the majority of customers already know where to get the illegal stuff.

Meanwhile, one of the main reasons Colorado may not be showing an increase in users in their state is because the majority of marijuana sales are being made to out-of-state customers. Won’t Canada be considered a great international neighbour if we collect taxes on customers who will illegally import the product to their own countries?

And that tax revenue? It’s not even half as high as expected. In January, media reports were saying there was an expected $40 million tax revenue in the first six months of 2014 due to marijuana sales. Turns out it’s only been $12 million — $12 million dollars that will go to building schools not addictions treatment or mental health care. Schools. Cafeterias funded by magic brownies and science labs funded by hash brewing. Statesmen are already trying to figure out where they lost that anticipated revenue and looking at the medical marijuana market as the culprit. There is talk of increasing the tax on medical marijuana too. So while collecting taxes from a public health danger that will not be put into public health funding they are also looking at increasing the tax on what is essentially a person’s medical need.

It is way too early to see how this is all going to turn out. Longitudinal studies aren’t possible within just six months of legal sales. And the issue is far too politicised to get any accurate reports on what data is available. That is why politicizing the subject as part of Canada’s national election leadup is both dangerous and wrong. Legalisation should not be an election platform. It should be something we look at with clear minds and due diligence as a nation. Once we go there, we can’t go back. And there are far too many “ifs” to go there to begin with.

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