An expert committee, charged with figuring out how to deliver on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's promise to legalize the sale and use of recreational marijuana in 2017, has delivered its report to government. John Ivison of the National Post writes the report will not be published until it's translated into French, but details are emerging about what the report contains.
Some of the panel's recommendations make sense. Others, including the idea that sales of marijuana should be restricted to a mail-order model are, to be blunt, stupid.
Key among the recommendations is that the government's objective should be to minimize or eradicate the illegal market for marijuana in Canada. This makes sense, however, complete eradication of the black market is an impossible goal that will lead to escalating law-enforcement costs -- which, let's face it, is the main reason we're even discussing legal pot. There will always be an illegal market to provide marijuana to people who are not legally authorized to buy it, from people who are not legally allowed to sell it.
However, clinging to the mail-order model is a flat-out stupid idea.
Canada's doctors recommend marijuana use continue to be prohibited for people under 21 years of age. The panel, reportedly, disagrees and will recommend provinces be allowed to set their own age limits -- which they suggest be set at the age of majority (18 in Ontario and most provinces). This makes sense. If the age is set too high, young people will continue to rely on illegal pot dealers for their recreational product -- which defies the stated objective of the whole exercise.
To minimize the black market for marijuana, the panel recommends government-approved weed be sold at a retail price that undercuts the current street price of $8 to $10 per gram for illegal bud. This makes sense. If legal marijuana is more expensive than its illegal cousin, then the legal product will pile up on government-approved shelves and street dealers will stay in business. Likewise, if it's more difficult to access legal bud, it won't succeed. Convenience is important in retail.
And that's where another of the panel's recommendations falls flat. According to Ivison, the panel recommends the current mail-order system for government-approved medical marijuana be used for recreational pot as well. This will ensure "quality control," according to the experts. Also not lost on government, is the fact that a monopoly on mail-order marijuana delivery for Canada Post could be a major boost to the flailing Crown corporation's bottom line.
However, clinging to the mail-order model is a flat-out stupid idea. The mail-order system doesn't work well now; witness, the thousands of licensed medical marijuana patients who already turn to local (illegal) dispensaries because the mail-order system doesn't meet their needs.
The entire experiment will fail and illegal weed sales will continue to flourish as they do now.
I'm not a marijuana consumer -- never have been, never will be. But, I understand business planning and marketing. Marijuana is a retail product for recreational consumers. For most users, it's not a staple item (after all, it's "recreational," remember?) so, they don't always plan ahead. Impulse sales, product expertise, advice from local sales staff, and immediate fulfillment are paramount.
Mail-order may be a complementary channel for some users, but it won't be the only channel. The idea that it can be is simply a non-starter.
If the government tries to restrict legal pot to mail-order delivery only, the entire experiment will fail and illegal weed sales will continue to flourish as they do now.
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