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Why Canada can’t afford to turn down legal marijuana sales

Why Canada can’t afford to turn down legal marijuana sales

Posted by Shanelle Weir on October 08, 2014

When the tour bus finishes the climb up the lush mountainside and comes to a stop at Nine Mile, Jamaica, the local men are ready. There is already a lineup of tourists at a stone wall outside the Bob Marley memorial site, and from a hole in the wall the Jamaican men conduct their business, selling $15 cigar-sized marijuana joints and large portions of pot-infused cake. Inside the Bob Marley compound, where the tour will include the Rastafarian reggae superstar’s childhood home, the tourists will be able to enjoy their purchases legally, and soon many of them will be smoking on the verandah of an open-air bar.

In just another two months, Jamaica will announce decriminalization of small amounts of ganja for personal use, but on this day the Bob Marley site is the only place on the Caribbean island where smoking marijuana is legal.

It is April, and change is in the wind in Jamaica, in Canada and elsewhere around the globe.

As the end of the fiscal first quarter draws near, the state of Colorado is counting $11 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales in a retail experiment that began in January. Under a plan proposed by state Governor John Hickenlooper, the tax revenue is marked for youth prevention services, substance abuse treatment and public health. The governor estimated sales in all marijuana stores would approach $1 billion for the fiscal year. While revenue in state coffers grew, crime rates dropped.

Canadian Liberal leader Justin Trudeau had already advocated studying best practices from Colorado. For some, a Canadian legal marijuana program is a question of when, not if.

“Within five years,” predicted former B.C. solicitor general and former police chief Kash Heed, speaking to CBC Radio in May. Now working as a consultant to medical marijuana companies, he added: “And that is a positive thing, because we can now take taxation dollars and put it back into programs such as prevention, education and health care that is so sadly needed here in Canada.”

To get clear perspective on the global marijuana movement and the benefits and pitfalls in the choices facing policy makers, medical marijuana and its recreational use both factor in the equation. They are not the same, but there is just one industry: cannabis. Colorado and Washington’s legalization programs underscore the industry is lucrative, and suggest the astuteness of a government-regulated retail industry replacing an unregulated criminal marketplace.

In Canada, the marijuana debate is stoked by the federal election coming in October, 2015.

“The fact of the matter is our current approach on marijuana -- the prohibition that (prime minister) Stephen Harper continues to defend -- is failing in two primary ways,” Mr. Trudeau told the Canadian Press. “The first one is it is not protecting our kids from the negative impacts of marijuana on the developing brain. Secondly, we are funnelling millions upon millions of dollars each year into organized crime and criminal gangs. We do not need to be funding those organizations.”

A new medical marijuana industry was launched when Health Canada changed its regulations April 1, requiring patients with doctors’ notes to obtain their pot directly from licensed producers. Pundits said the Conservative government was trying to distance itself from marijuana, but what entrepreneurs saw was ground-floor opportunity. The department was flooded with hundreds of applications from would-be growers, who will have a lucrative market if Canada follows the U.S. lead on recreational sales. But there is already a substantial market unfolding; Ottawa projected the medical marijuana market will hit $1.3 billion annually by 2024, with some 450,000 registered users. By August, however, grow licences had been granted to just 13 companies.

The island of Jamaica, cited by the United States as its largest Caribbean supplier of illegal pot, saw possibilities in legitimate export as the global marijuana landscape shifted. In the same month that Canada’s revamped medical marijuana program got underway, the Jamaica Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association held its inaugural meeting. Some months earlier, in late 2013, Dr. Henry Lowe, a prominent and internationally-recognized Jamaican scientist, had already launched the island’s first medical marijuana firm.

There is a sense of urgency being cultivated along with the ganja crops. At the first Jamaica Cannabis Conference at the University of West Indies in May, the theme was, “Wake Up Jamaica, Our Opportunities Are Slipping Away.” The roster of international speakers, local media reported, included participants from Israel, China, the United States and Canada. In early June, the Jamaican government announced marijuana decriminalization.

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