Article by André Picard, The Globe and Mail
In 2012, Washington State voted to legalize marijuana. By 2014, the world’s first system for legally growing, processing and retailing cannabis was operating.
As Canada prepares to go live with pot sales in a few months, what can we learn from four years of practical, hands-on experience in the western United States?
The first take-away is that all the fretting about the impact on children and teens is largely unwarranted.
Before legalization, 17 per cent of Grade 10 students in Washington State said they had smoked pot in the previous month. Four years of legal doobies later, 17 per cent of Grade 10 students say they have smoked pot in the previous month.
“We thought we would see a significant increase in teen use,” said Rick Garza, director of the Washington State Liquor Control and Cannabis Board. “But what the kids will tell you is that they didn’t need adults to legalize it to get their hands on cannabis.”
Many teens experiment with marijuana, as they do with alcohol (about two-thirds for the two substances), but only a minority use them semi-regularly. The presence of legal retail outlets and legal age for purchase (21 in Washington State, 18-19 in Canada) doesn’t make a whit of difference.
Mr. Garza, who spoke to the annual conference of the B.C. Pharmacy Association in Victoria last week, noted, however, that legal sales have made a dent in the black market.
“Research shows we have 63 per cent of the cannabis market, which far exceeds our predictions,” he said. People continue to buy street drugs largely because it’s cheaper. Wresting control of the drug trade from the mob is complicated.
In Washington State, cannabis sells from about US$7 a gram and up (the same or lower than the street price, especially when stores stage promotions such as $2 Tuesdays). Only 60 per cent of sales are dried cannabis and oil; 26 per cent of sales are extracts for inhalation and vaping; most of the balance is edibles. (In Canada, edibles will not be legal until 2019.)