The Goal of Legalized Cannabis Shouldn’t Be Corporate Gold

Article by Alan Young, The Globe and Mail


For the past 25 years I have worked to change Canada’s archaic legal approach to marijuana use. Having little faith in the political process and its partisan posturing, I turned to the courts and the Charter of Rights to challenge the constitutional validity of many laws that criminalize morally controversial activity among consenting adults.

Despite achieving enormous success in developing a constitutional protection for medical marijuana, the basic foundation of the marijuana prohibition remained intact after the flurry of court cases. Having grown weary of battle, I was thrilled when the Liberal party pledged to legalize marijuana in 2015. Of course, political promises are unenforceable and, in the past, being on the verge of reform often ended with a quiet re-entrenchment of the status quo. So my enthusiasm has been tempered by a strong dose of cynicism.

As the government crawls towards legalization with the appointment of yet another task force, my tempered enthusiasm has started to wane, replaced by dismay. Everywhere I look I see countless interested parties and stakeholders lining up to cash in on cannabis dollars.

Twenty years ago I predicted that cannabis would be legalized when governments and corporate entities realized the untold monetary treasures to be reaped upon legalization, just as gambling was legalized in the 1990s to reap billions of dollars in tax revenues. And now, licensed medical cannabis producers, drug stores, provincial governments, labour unions, marijuana dispensaries and predatory stock brokers all want a share of the market. Who can blame them? Cannabis is a capitalist’s dream considering the unprecedented economic opportunity of a ready-made customer base of millions.

I have always seen marijuana as a benign and mild intoxicant, and the less state regulation the better. However, I understand that some Canadians, and the government, see greater risks, and it is unlikely we will enter a legal world of grow-your-own, share with friends and sell small amounts to others. Canada has a tradition of overregulation and one can already sense that the government is poised to place a myriad of restrictions on production and distribution. Invariably, the more complex the regulatory framework, the more likely the market will be overrun by multinational corporations, Crown agencies and the heroes of big business. This completely undercuts the 1960s idealism which spawned our taste for the uplifting effects of marijuana; however, idealism always plays second fiddle to the realism of money markets.

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