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Big Weed will capitalize on cannabis at any cost to society: Bryant

Like the end of Prohibition, legal weed is an inevitability, says Attorney General of Ontario Michael Bryant. But that doesn't mean we can let marijuana (medical or otherwise) loose onto the free market without some legislative brakes.

Senior Grower Mikael Rykes inside the flowering room where marijuana plants grow at United Greeneries in Duncan, B.C., on Friday, August 4, 2017.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Senior Grower Mikael Rykes inside the flowering room where marijuana plants grow at United Greeneries in Duncan, B.C., on Friday, August 4, 2017.

Cigarettes are good for your health. There’s no such thing as global warming, so keep on burning coal. Benzodiazepines like Valium are a godsend — “mother’s little helper.” “Anything’s possible when you learn to handle Smirnoff.” These are some of the vintage ads and canards that we look back upon today with wonder.

The naiveté of the media, consumers and duped politicians; the cynicism, cunning and recklessness of the industries that profited, for a time, at the expense of peoples’ health.

How could so many have been so stupid?

Today Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, Anything Oil, even the Fast Food Industry, are simply not to be trusted. So why are we all being so stupid about the coming pot legalization in Canada?

I don’t mean we’re stupid about legalization itself — like the end of Prohibition, legal weed is an inevitability that Prime Minister Trudeau seized upon at great political risk (inevitable doesn’t mean timely) and to great political benefit. Today, “Justin” is a fresh, exciting agent for change (the Holy Grail for electoral success).

What’s stupid is our collective amnesia about what happens in a democracy when a forbidden fruit hits the market: namely, capitalism at its worst. The response of capitalism to legalized cannabis will be to capitalize, as is its nature. To imagine that there will be no Big Weed akin to Big Tobacco is stupid. Consolidation is assured, and Big Weed will be run by executives from the other Big Bad Wolves.

That’s why it’s smart of Ontario to propose its tried and true gatekeeper for selling intoxicants — provincially owned (and controlled), unionized LCBO stores — as Her Majesty’s Official Weed Dealer. Not stupid.

And yet we don’t learn the other lesson: that with cigarettes came cancer, with legalized poppy pills came addiction and overdose, and with legalized cannabis will come more addiction and other bad health effects. It’s fatuous hairsplitting to debate whether “cannabis use disorder” or “cannabis dependence” (as defined in the fifth revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) falls short of addiction that lands your life in a toilet.

The health benefits of “medical marijuana” will one day be equated with the disservice done by a generation of doctors who overprescribed opiates and benzos, the previous generation of doctors being suckered into smoking and recommending Camel cigarettes as good for you.

So, knowing that it’s coming, what are we doing to either prevent or respond to the inexorable exploitation of consumers’ wallets and well being? This is where PM Trudeau gets a huge break from our Constitution. The nature of Canadian federalism is such that regulating the Big Bad Wolves is left to the provinces. Other than the banks, all the companies requiring oversight are under provincial domain.

Jerred Kiloh, owner of the Higher Path medical marijuana dispensary, stocks shelves with with cannabis products in Los Angeles.

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Jerred Kiloh, owner of the Higher Path medical marijuana dispensary, stocks shelves with with cannabis products in Los Angeles.

Leading the provincial Pineapple Express is New Brunswick’s extremely young premier, Brian Gallant, for whom history will not be kind if history repeats itself. Gallant seems only to be following the money. By contrast, limited, provincially owned pot shops in Ontario looks prudent.

But Ontario’s Pot Bill is not a health policy. It’s a Law and (Sales) Order policy. Ontario Liberals continue to offer nothing progressive or meaningful on treating those made unwell by what we used to call vices. Their thinking behind the legal age for smoking pot (19) could fit on a rolling paper. The absence of any addiction treatment plan beyond imbecilic ads and ineffectual hotlines is blinkered.

Here’s hoping for some amendments to their Pot Bill that puts legislative brakes on the Pineapple Express of capitalizing on cannabis at any cost.

Michael Bryant was Attorney General of Ontario in the McGuinty Government, and a Toronto MPP from 1999-2009.

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