Op-Ed

Photo: Orims Yomi.

Giving priority to corporations will reduce the potential positive effects of legalization

The Liberal government has continuously pursued the decriminalization of marijuana and is finally on track to begin thinking about how to draft legislation. This comes as no surprise since this change would be a large source of revenue for the government, and an opportunity to relieve the legal system of drug-related cases, which currently cost the government $2 billion, according to Statistics Canada.

It’s also a chance to engage local businesses, and improve the slowing economy. Unfortunately, all this will be lost if the government gives big businesses the bulk of the market share for legalized cannabis.

Currently, large pharmacies like Shoppers Drug Mart, Rexall, and London Drugs are looking to monopolize this upcoming market, arguing that they’re best fit to monitor trade, distribution and administration of the drug. However, this would undermine one of the key government incentives for decriminalization—decreasing crime rates.

The price of an illegal drug such as marijuana is greatly inflated, due to the risk of incarceration borne by the suppliers and distributors. Legalization means that cannabis could be farmed like any other agricultural product, which would drive down prices and outsource illegal sources, reducing crime rates.

This is exactly what happened in Colorado after decriminalization laws took effect in 2014. In just one year, marijuana prices dropped 40 per cent, violent crime rates in Denver decreased by 2.2 per cent and burglaries decreased by 9.5 per cent.

Creating cannabis monopoly would mean that companies have an incentive to jack up prices to keep profits sky high. There’s no reason for corporations like Shoppers to lower their prices because they will not face competition from small business dispensaries.

In this situation, crime rates likely won’t decrease as much as they might otherwise, and tax revenue will not be nearly as high because people would still have reason to purchase from illegal sources as opposed to taxable companies. The market for recreational use would be limited, because there would be few local dispensaries that can satisfy personal tastes through various, more ‘artisanal’ strands.

If cannabis decriminalization is handled properly, Canada can finally break free of prohibition-era policies regarding consumption, and begin a new path that can inspire the future social changes our country desperately needs.

This is a golden opportunity for the Liberals to kill two birds with one stone: legalize a profitable recreational industry, and create a precedent for progressive social change.