(Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)

Let’s be blunt: Yukon should spurn Ontario’s lead on weed

The land that fun forgot is a poor model for legalization

Legal cannabis is coming. That much we know.

Exactly what the Yukon’s marijuana landscape will look like in July 2018, when legalization arrives, remains largely unknown.

The Yukon government is seeking public input on its marijuana regime until the end of September and promises to make survey results public by mid-November. A task force is already fleshing out a regulatory framework as we speak.

The federal government has opted — wisely, it has to be said — to set baseline rules for legalization and otherwise allow the provinces and territories to figure out the rest. That includes how marijuana will be sold, who may buy it and what sorts of pot products — the grey market already offers everything from hashish to cookies to bath bombs — will be permitted by the new legal regime.

Some provinces have announced their rules and we’re already seeing widely divergent approaches. Ontario’s drab army of bureaucratic drones has never met a vice it couldn’t strangle the fun out of (Exhibit A: The Beer Store, some locations of which retain all the charm of a Soviet bread lineup circa 1956.)

Ontario’s rules, highly abridged, strictly limit the number of retail outlets to 40 at first. This, in a province with some 1,200 liquor stores, is absurd. VICE reports there are 100 dispensaries in Toronto now, despite the fact that the city’s police department keeps raiding them, apparently out of pure spite.

There’s also a ban on cannabis lounges for public vaping or smoking. This is presumably in the name of public health, and yet the federal government is banning edibles, which don’t require inhaling anything and are the next most popular way for people to get high.

“Prohibition is not being lifted,” one dispensary worker told Yukon News alum Sam Riches, writing for Leafly. “They are exchanging prohibition with extreme regulation.”

What’s worse, the Ontario government will be the sole distributor of marijuana. In its rush to throw more candy to the LCBO’s public service union (which lobbied hard for the government monopoly), Ontario has erased one of the main reasons for legalization in the first place, which was undermining a major source of cash for organized crime. Budtenders who know what they’re selling will be replaced with government workers VICE called “people who have been narcs their whole life.”

All these details virtually guarantee the black market supply of marijuana will continue to thrive.

The Government of Ontario is now both Big Brother and a pot dealer. Congratulations, good people of Ontario. Enjoy the sweet smell of freedom.

Manitoba meanwhile, has issued a tender for expressions of interest to gauge the private sector’s appetite to produce, distribute and sell weed. Although Manitoba’s finance minister is one of the heel-draggers who thinks the feds should delay legalization, the Progressive Conservative government has the right idea. There’s no reason why legal marijuana can’t roughly parallel alcohol, where the government sets the rules, takes a healthy cut of the profits, may or may not have a hand in retail, and otherwise leaves plenty of space for industry to give people what they want.

Poll results released this past week appear to back that up: a survey by Oracle Poll found 65 per cent of respondents favoured allowing licensed growers to open their own stores.

For all its flaws, the existing system for regulating tobacco and alcohol is sufficient to handle legal marijuana. The feds are proposing sentences of up to 14 years for providing marijuana to kids. That should be enough to ensure retailers follow the rules.

There will also be stiff new penalties for driving stoned and police are getting $274 million for enforcement, which leads to the conclusion that “regulation” might be a better term for what we’re calling legalization.

And despite piles of evidence that marijuana is less harmful to human health than alcohol and tobacco, and despite the fact that the marijuana industry is already functioning almost as if legalization is already here, our bureaucratic classes cannot seem to help themselves.

As Paul Wells wrote in Maclean’s, Liberal MP Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief, grimly declared the government was legalizing pot so kids would no longer buy from “some gangster in a stairwell.” What this proves is that Bill Blair has no idea what he’s talking about.

“Lord forbid,” Wells wrote elsewhere, “anyone suggest that the point of legalizing marijuana in Canada is to increase the amount of fun anybody might be having.”

The very thought! Police and federal public health officials, who, to be clear, have important roles in legalization, have dominated the rollout almost completely. But these Very Serious People seem incapable of appreciating that millions of people consume cannabis daily, and literally nothing bad happens to them as a result. This is why demand for pot has never abated — indeed it has only grown — no matter how tight governments turned the screws of prohibition.

Which brings us to the Yukon. If you have spent, I don’t know, 60 seconds outside in this territory, you will have caught a whiff of the pungent truth: people here really like weed. They already smoke a lot of it. As Keith Halliday wrote in these pages, Yukoners are already enjoying trips to Skagway’s legal weed store, the Remedy Shoppe.

The store’s employees have said Yukon government representatives already paid a visit to ask questions about Alaska’s approach to legalization. There’s no word whether they sampled the merchandise, but all joking aside, it is good to hear the YG is making use of a real-world case study located so close by.

And hey, you can bet there are plenty of tokers — ranging from the occasional dabblers to the downright chronic — employed by the Yukon government, all the way up to the highest (sorry) levels.

For these reasons, and also because fully-grown adults should be able to make their own decisions, the Yukon government should regulate legal cannabis with as light a touch as possible.

Contact Chris Windeyer at editor@yukon-news.com