Toronto’s former top cop made stops in London on Tuesday, meeting with city and police officials to discuss a regulatory framework for legalizing marijuana in Canada that he says will protect children and consumers, while taking away business from organized crime.
“So many people talk about legalization of marijuana, but we are really talking about replacing the criminal sanction with a more effective regime of regulation and control,” said Bill Blair, a Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice tasked with promoting the federal government’s plan to legalize, regulate, and significantly restrict the production, distribution, and consumption of cannabis.
“Quite frankly, the system that’s currently in place is not working,” Blair explained.
“In Canada, in our communities today, young people use marijuana at a higher rate than any other group of young people anywhere else in the world. Close to 40-per cent of youth in this country report that they’re using cannabis.”
Blair says stricter regulation on how marijuana is sold, how it’s produced, and who it is sold to will better protect children from the risk imposed by using the drug during adolescent years and will also protect all consumers otherwise using a product with unclear origins.
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But strict regulation is not the approach favoured by Ian Dawkins, president of the Cannabis Commerce Association of Canada — who acts as a consultant and spokesperson for the Chronic Hub Social Club medical marijuana dispensary in London.
“The rhetoric they’re using in Bill Blair’s national tour is deeply concerning to us because … there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of jobs in Canada directly tied to cannabis agriculture,” explained Dawkins.
“The federal Liberals’ plan is to basically regulate all of that out of business — out of existence — rather than trying to co-opt like they did in Colorado and Oregon, where they turned those producers — those grey market producers — into craft producers, small producers, like they have with craft beer.”
Dawkins says — if successful — the government will destroy an $8-10 billion craft cannabis industry and will move towards growing low-quality cannabis in large farms that struggle with pesticides. But he’s skeptical their goal is even possible and predicts the project will fundamentally fail.
“Rationally if you think about it, the current black market has thrived under the most brutal conditions of the war on drugs, it’s not going to simply go away when you shift the burden of crime to fit into mere tax evasion.”
He says the association isn’t asking the government for a system without rules — but for businesses to be regulated in an evidence-based way, by examining best practices in other jurisdictions that have already learned lessons about legalizing marijuana.
Dawkins adds he’s been unsuccessfully asking to meet with Blair ever since the police-chief-turned-politician was appointed to the position of parliamentary secretary for cannabis reform, 18 months ago.