One of the biggest single marijuana buys in the history of buying marijuana was announced last week.
You might be able to find bigger purchases if you consider cartels, or possibly larger legal sales if you scrutinize multi-year deals to supply pharmaceutical companies. Regardless, the province of Quebec’s deal to buy 359 tons of cannabis over a five-year period from a selection of Health Canada-licensed producers is a very big buy. Why does a province of 8 million people, the second-largest in Canada, need all that weed? Why, to sell it, of course.
Recreational marijuana sales will begin in Canada sometime this year (maybe this summer, possibly longer, but barring an unforeseen reversal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s grand plan to give his people weed will happen in 2018).
In Quebec, all retail outlets will be run by the state. Same as in Ontario, the country’s largest state by population.
Ontario has yet to lock in a deal to supply its stores, though since cannabis production in Canada is thus far solely the realm of the 90 Health Canada-licensed producers, we know roughly where residents of Toronto, Ottawa, Sault St. Marie and Pickering will get their weed. And since Quebec has a lower population and an even lower population of cannabis users — the lowest ratio of cannabis patient registration, 75.8 per 100,000 people, is in Quebec, as Marijuana Business Daily noted — whenever Ontario signs its supply contract, it will be much bigger.
Lest you think this plan is an outrageous government grab or unprecedented, it’s not. In fact, it’s the same model followed for liquor in several places on the continent, including in the United States — and it’s a model Americans can and should consider.
It’s safe to say that marijuana people are generally liberal, but are also often liberal libertarian. These are the logical and reasonable outcomes of spending a generation or two hiding from the police forces of a government that declares you the criminal peddler or user of a dangerous drug. Thus, there’s some predictable queasiness over immediately handing the keys over to the entity that was pursuing you.
Understood, but listen here. Much of the details regarding Quebec and Ontario’s sales plans have yet to be determined, such as minimum (or maximum) price, subsidies for low-income buyers (something that will probably only ever happen with medical cannabis sales), and minimum standards for quality and potency.
But these are all things that will be decided sometime this year — and with all of these determined by a government, rather than by the market, or, worst of all, a market artificially constricted by the government — this means consumers will have market standards in which they are supposed to have a say. That is the whole point of a liberal democracy, after all, and should translate into consumer-friendly pricing and standards. If the state decides that $5 is the standard price for a gram of decent greenhouse, then it’s the standard.
Yes, the producer could theoretically decide that that price isn’t sustainable, and jack them up, but then another licensed producer could arrive with something better, or cheaper. It’s what you’d call a controlled market — one of the features of a social democracy.
Let’s leave market economics aside and talk for a moment about politics. Could Americans ever see a government-run competitor to the legal marijuana dispensary or delivery service? It sounds far-fetched in the Trump era, but the answer is a question. Why not?
Look: Arguments that state or local governments can’t do this or that connected to cannabis because of the federal government are getting weaker by the day. Millions and millions of dollars in tax revenue derived from the sales of cannabis flow into tax collectors’ offices every day in California, Colorado, Washington and elsewhere where the states are much redder.
In a different era, taking proceeds from the sales of illegal drugs qualified participants for indictments in continuing criminal conspiracies. As much as Donald Trump might like to put California Gov. Jerry Brown in jail, he is not doing it.
There are practical reasons for a state-run cannabis retail option, and there are altruistic ones. It would be nice to have an entity responsible to the public set a market standard. It would be nicer for publicly subsidized cannabis to be available, if cannabis is indeed a medicine (and it is). That would be the right and proper thing to do, and a much easier task to accomplish.
Then the political ones. If a state as powerful as California decided to break the mold and authorize state-run marijuana sales, defending federal prohibition would become all the more absurd. There is a precedent for this, like San Francisco authorizing same-sex marriages back when it was illegal in 2004. The analogy is not perfect, but the point is that unjust federal laws can be ignored or broken as a prelude to their abolishing.
Proposals like this will not be universally popular. Some believe the state has no business in a market economy, others believe public options are invitations for inefficiency and the death of innovation. People like that are usually already well-off and wealthy.
State-run weed stores are a thing in Canada. They might stink, but they might be good. It’s an idea worth examining south of the border in America.
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