Now that the Queen is our largest cannabis dealer, how are things?

– by Shawn P. Buckley –

I have been a criminal defence attorney for 25 years and have witnessed the Crown and the courts relentlessly punish persons caught with cannabis. Regarding any poor soul who has purchased a six month or a year supply for their personal use, I have witnessed the police “experts” mislead the courts with the big lie that such people must be trafficking, because cannabis does not last a year and consequently the amount seized cannot be for personal use.

Her Majesty is not finished punishing persons caught with cannabis. The difference is that now She is only punishing people caught with cannabis that the Crown is not making a profit from. We have moved from protecting the citizens from the “danger” of cannabis to protecting the profits of the Crown. And as with any crony capitalism scheme, there are casualties.

It might surprise some to learn that many in the cannabis black market were afraid of legalization because they expected more enforcement. Indeed, some of the compassion clubs who were my clients voluntarily shut down just before legalization. Others have shut down after legalization because of enforcement action that was absent when cannabis was illegal. This has had serious health consequences.

People are still relying on compassion clubs to meet their medical needs for several reasons. One is cost. Legal cannabis is expensive because of deliberate over-regulation and the Crown taking a cut of the profit. Many find that the quality of cannabis at compassion clubs, and in the black market generally, is superior to legal cannabis. For some, this quality difference is the difference between effective medication and ineffective medication. Another issue is selection, and not just of bud. In R. v. Smith, the Supreme Court of Canada made it clear that persons with medical need have a constitutional right to cannabis in all forms. Smith was a baker for a compassion club, and the Court agreed that persons in medical need have a right to cannabis edibles, because they act differently than other forms of cannabis.

Edibles are not yet legal, but when they become legal on July 1, 2020, we will still see people accessing compassion club edibles. This is because of cost and potency. Presently, a typical compassion club cookie costs around $7 and will have around 200 mcg of THC. A person who uses edibles for pain control, may cut that cookie into four pieces and be able to get four nights sleep for less then $2 a night. Legal edibles will be limited to 10 mcg of THC, meaning that a person would have to eat 5 legal cookies to get the same effect as eating a quarter of one from a compassion club. We don’t know what the cost of legal cookies will be, but the last time I looked in Washington State, a 10 mcg cookie was over $10 USD. Persons of poor means will not be able to afford this.

In legalizing cannabis, the government has decided to limit any dosage unit (say in a cookie or a drink) to 10 mcg of THC. This is akin to legalizing alcohol providing it is under 6 percent, making beer and coolers legal but leaving wine and spirits in the black market. This is a recipe to ensure that the cannabis black market continues to thrive, which many will view positively considering the cost and quality issues with legal cannabis.

As far as I am aware, there has never been a death caused by cannabis, either in Canada or elsewhere. Cannabis does not suppress respiration the same way some other drugs do. This makes cannabis safer than common things like peanuts, shell fish and acetaminophen which kill Canadians yearly. Considering its low risk, the government had the option of simply de-criminalizing cannabis and letting the Food and Drugs Act apply to regulate it like any other food or drug. Instead, we have very strict regulations which drive up the price, and which so far seems to give large companies preferential treatment in licence approval. My office prepares cannabis licences and we are not alone in the view that large companies that have former politicians as front persons get licences while everyone else waits.

While favouring connected companies might benefit the few, taxpayers are left holding the bag. If cannabis was simply legalized, governments would get a windfall with sales taxes and income taxes on previously untaxed sales. Instead we have government monopolies on distribution and, in some cases, for online sales, like in Alberta. Yet despite the monopoly, governments are still proving able to do what governments do best: lose taxpayer money. I spoke to John Carle of the Alberta Cannabis Council who provided me with an estimate that the Alberta Government is expected to lose $90 million dollars in the first two years of legalization despite having a monopoly for distribution and online sales.

The war on drugs has taken a turn for the worse. Governments are losing money. Persons with medical need are losing their low-cost supply. Enforcement is up, freedom is down.

Lawyer Shawn Buckley focuses on protecting access to natural remedies including cannabis. He has helped set up compassion clubs and has defended them when necessary. He is president of the Natural Health Products Protection Assn., a non-profit dedicated to protecting health freedoms. (visit buckleyandco.ca and nhppa.org)

photo by Margo Amala, Unsplash

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