A few articles back, we here at BcBud gave our opinion on the Government of Ontario’s plan to sell cannabis. Essentially, the task of selling pot has been given to the LCBO, an organization that already draws heavy criticism for having a total monopoly over alcohol sales in Ontario. Now, the powers that be have decided to give the LCBO that same control over marijuana as well. Again, there are a multiple problems that come up as a result of this monopolization which were already discussed in our previous article. The focus of this article is what the rest of the country is leaning towards: the government is going to be your weed dealer.
For those of you who follow the news, you will know that weed has some pretty powerful lobbyists on its side. The sad truth of government is: protests bring awareness, but lobbyists create the change. Until now, weed legalization has had very few vocal adversaries in Canada. Minus groups that tote family values, or keep all drugs illegal, there has not been a huge push against medicinal or recreational use of cannabis. But, as soon as marijuana becomes legal, it’s in the sights of a very powerful and very persuasive group: pharmaceutical lobbyists.
Studies from the United States show that in any state where marijuana is legal (for medicinal or recreational use), prescription opioid use goes down. When there is a legal, safe, regulated alternative to opioid based medication, doctors and patients both tend to prefer the CBD or THC option. Many people believe that marijuana legalization will even help offset the growing opioid addiction crisis. This is all around good news, unless you work for a pharmaceutical company that makes significant profits selling opioid based medications.
The lobbyists are not going to stop legalization. What they are going to do is find a way to prevent medicinal cannabis from cutting into pharmaceutical profits. There are multiple tactics they could take, and none of them are good for the cannabis industry as a whole. For example, when the government tried to cut the price of prescription medication in general, pharmaceutical lobbyist paid patient advocacy groups to argue against this price reduction. This means, the lobbyists were able to convince the groups that fight for patient rights to fight against cheaper medication. And, while cannabis regulation is a positive overall, especially for people who use THC and CBD products for medical use only, lobbyists will probably be pushing for over-regulation. This means, forcing patients and doctors through a difficult prescription and sales process that makes buying and prescribing opioids cheaper, faster, and easier than cannabis. If lobbyist can convince patients they should pay more for medication, they can probably convince the government that we should overly regulate cannabis.
The pharmaceutical lobbyist being able to persuade the implementation of these stricter guidelines may or may not happen in the future. But, with the government now being the sole decider of where and how people can buy marijuana, and the lobbyist knowing how to persuade the government, ill-conceived regulation is probably coming.
The government may have forced themselves into the position of the largest cannabis supplier in Canada, but that still does not mean they will be the only seller. And while their only competition may not be legal, there is still going to be a substantial number of challengers to the government’s weed monopoly. Canadians spent almost six billion dollars on cannabis last year, and 90% of that was spent on illegal products. That is a substantial and powerful industry, run by dedicated and passionate individuals that the government is trying to completely control. The government knows that they will have a tough time competing with established, albeit illegal, sellers and growers, and they have a plan.
With all this being said, the government’s own plans seem to be what will drive them out of business. Firstly, they want to set a price point that will undermine black market sales. Cannabis prices are currently set (in an illegal market) based on the grow methods, the rarity and abundance of the strain, and how difficult it is to transport. Legal marijuana has the added price of regulation. While those things may even out, the government will not be able to undersell black market prices and maintain a profit. Plus, if the government is able to set a price point that will compete with illegal sales, they are not prepared to meet the demand this will generate. It appears that the government’s biggest competition will be their own lack of experience.
This brings us to the last point: the knowledge and experience that it takes to understand cannabis. Warren Thomas, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the union which represents LCBO employees, recently gave his take on the issue. His statement boils down to the fact that legal cannabis is still a drug, and like alcohol, needs to be controlled. And, since the LCBO staff are already trained to check ages of people who buy alcohol, he feels that this qualifies them to also sell cannabis. In the same article, it is stated that the revenue generated by LCBO cannabis sales will help to offset the social impact of legalized cannabis.
The two above arguments only serve to show how under educated the government is when it comes to cannabis sales. The idea that knowing how to properly check ID is the most important aspect of marijuana sales is extremely flawed. The number of marijuana strains is increasing on a daily basis. Each of these strains has different effects, THC to CBD ratios, benefits, downsides, and other issues that need to be explained to buyers. Marijuana is not alcohol and has nuances that need to be made clear, especially to first time users.
Also, revenue will help to offset the social impact of legal cannabis? It is a well proven fact that the only social impact of marijuana comes from its illegality. Cannabis itself has never been shown to have a negative effect on an individual or a community. Only the act of policing and incarcerating cannabis users has had any negative social impact. If the government does not recognize even this basic fact, and actually uses misinformation to support their monopolization, is it reasonable to trust their decisions when it comes to regulation?
This is of course all speculation. Provincial governments may find a way to create useful and sensible regulation, properly educate medicinal and recreational users, set price points that do not undermine their own agenda, and provide a high quality product. They might. But at this point, it seems doubtful.
Thanks for reading and until next time, keep smoking (or dosing, ingesting…).