Canada is striking a balance unlike that of the US’s legalization experiments. Thus far in the US, the eight states that have legalized pot sales have done so with a model similar to alcohol. Basically, the US is setting up their systems to allow a for-profit pot industry to flourish, similar to the alcohol industry. Drug policy experts, however, often point to the alcohol industry as a warning, not something to be admired and followed for other drugs. For decades, big alcohol has successfully lobbied lawmakers to block tax increases and regulations on alcohol, all while marketing its product as fun in television programs. Meanwhile, alcohol is linked to 88,000 deaths each year in the US.
Canada’s bill lets provinces entirely handle the distribution and sales of marijuana. While state-run liquor stores aren’t unheard of in the US when it comes to alcohol, it’s widely seen as risky in America with marijuana. Since cannabis is illegal at the federal level, asking state employees to run marijuana shops would effectively ask them to violate federal law. But since Canada is legalizing marijuana nationwide in one go, it can do this and several provinces are expected to take up this option.
The promise of government-run marijuana shops is that they could be better for public health. In short, government agencies that run shops are generally going to be more mindful of public health and safety, while private companies are only going to be interested in maximizing sales, even if that means making prices very low or selling to minors and people with drug use disorders. Previous research found that states that maintained a government-operated monopoly for alcohol kept prices higher, reduced youth access, and reduced overall levels of use — all benefits to public health.
Legalization may be the better approach on net compared to prohibition, but that doesn’t mean that for-profit, private companies have to be given free rein over the market. If Canada shows that these policies are the right approach to legalization, it could provide a legalization model to the rest of the world that’s very different from what America has done so far.
Frank T. Luciano has been representing people accused of marijuana related issues for over 40 years. He is a lifetime member of the legal committee for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and has been a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorney’s for many years. He is familiar with bail/detention procedures in Bergen (Hackensack), Passaic (Paterson) and Hudson (Jersey City) Counties.