Mexico could ease Canada’s cannabis problem

The plan to drive illegal cannabis growers out of business is going slowly.

The problem is supplying enough legal cannabis to lower retail prices. Eventually illegal sellers will be a quaint memory, something like the bootleggers of alcohol of the past. For that to happen, a plentiful supply of cannabis has to be available and it’s going to take years for that to happen with Canadian growers only.

image: Greenhouse Canada

The cost of legal cannabis remains nearly 50 per cent higher than potleggers according to crowd-sourced data obtained by Statistics Canada. The cannabis store Kamloops seems to fairly well-stocked but in some parts of Canada like Quebec, stores have had to close on some days of the week due to lack of supply.

One way to lower retail prices immediately is to reduce taxes; a solution favoured by the cannabis industry. In addition to provincial sales taxes, the federal government charges one dollar per gram excise tax and an annual cultivation fee of 2.3 per cent of revenue.

Some jurisdictions in the U.S. with legal cannabis markets, such as California, are considering such temporary tax reductions to lure customers away from the illegal market after disappointing early sales.

I don’t think lower taxes are the solution. The whole idea of legalization of cannabis is generate revenue so that other taxes could be reduced. Like other “sin taxes” on recreational drugs such as tobacco and booze, taxes on cannabis provide revenue on a product not currently taxed.

Regardless, Canada has no intention of following the U.S. lead. A Canadian Finance Department spokesperson said: “There are no planned changes to the existing duties at this time (Globe and Mail, February 4, 2018).”

Another way to reduce legal cannabis prices is to increase supply.

Mexico plans to legalize cannabis. The new interior minister of the Obrador government has introduced draft legislation to regulate cannabis. Mexico has been studying Canada’s model of issuing licences for the cultivation, processing, packaging, sale and possession of cannabis.

Mexico has something going for it that Canada doesn’t -climate.  Cannabis doesn’t need to be grown in greenhouses there. The president of Mexico’s National Association of Cannabis Industries says:

“We’re going to be able to create a new industry based on new regulations, to produce cannabis for the rest of the world – our geographic situation and our labour [pool] gives us a major advantage (Globe and Mail, November 8, 2019)”

Enthusiasm is mutual on this side of the border. Canada’s Canopy Growth Corp. is looking at investing in Mexico. Their co-CEO said:

“We think [Mexico] is a real opportunity. When you’re on both sides of America with really well-positioned products, this could be a very good platform to reflect both sides of the border with the U.S. and enter an economy that is substantial.”

However, Mexico faces hurdles. Much of Mexico is controlled by drug cartels who oversee the growth of illegal marijuana. Seizing control of agricultural land will be a challenge. Also, Columbia is also poised to compete in the legal cannabis market and have a workforce experienced in its growth.

Of course, Canada’s fledgling cannabis industry needs to be protected but controlled importation could help our supply problem.

Ditch the stoner image of cannabis users

Now that cannabis is legal in Canada a more accurate picture of users is emerging. Cannabis users are coming out into the daylight and they don’t look like what’s depicted in the movies.

image: GFarma.news

The Hollywood portrayal of marijuana users usually involves a bumbling buffoon who sits on a couch, smokes weed and binge watches TV. He can barely remember where he left his car keys, much less hold down a job or do well in school.

In Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Jeff Spicoli is a carefree stoner and surfer with little regard for school. In Cheech & Chong’s movies like Up in Smoke, a couple of stoners take meandering road trips in smoke-filled van.

The stigma of cannabis use is historical. “Marijuana” was first used as a pejorative term to describe what U.S. blacks and Mexican used in the 1930s. Leafly.ca says:

“The Great Depression had just hit the United States, and Americans were searching for someone to blame. Due to the influx of immigrants and the rise of suggestive jazz music, many white Americans began to treat cannabis (and, arguably, the Blacks and Mexican immigrants who consumed it) as a foreign substance used to corrupt the minds and bodies of low-class individuals.”

With such an image of degenerate and low-life users, cannabis consumers have been reluctant to admit use even after legalization. Some still feel like they have to be secretive about it. A friend emailed me:

“However, nothing has changed for me, somehow I still feel like I have to hide in my back yard if I want to smoke a joint…..how weird is that!!!!”

That reluctance is reflected in surveys. Health Canada’s Canadian Cannabis Survey asked respondents about their willingness to disclose use. Even once cannabis is legal, 25 per cent said that they would not disclose that they use it. While not a majority, it reflects reluctance to be judged by the stereotypical image of befuddled fools.

That connection is also reflected when respondents were asked about social acceptability of cannabis use. Less than half, 45 per cent, said that recreational use was socially acceptable.

Another study by Starbuds Canada done before legalization found that 27 percent of Canadians, or about 10 million people, currently consume cannabis. Another 17 percent said they would consider using it.

The largest growing demographic of users and those curious about using, are older, more affluent consumers. While Canadians over the age of 65 use the least, they are the most interested in trying it.

The majority of users have higher education degrees, including 43 percent university and 32 percent college. Most users are under the age of 54 and one-third of them have children.

Dave Martyn, president of Starbuds Canada says:

“With cannabis going mainstream, the ’stoner’ stereotype is dying. Cannabis isn’t just for intoxication, people are using it to relax, unwind, like they would a glass of wine at the end of the day. The average cannabis consumer is more likely to resemble your neighbour than any portrayal in pop culture.”

Advice to TRU: educate, don’t prohibit cannabis

Thompson Rivers University plans to prohibit the recreational use of cannabis on campus. This, despite the failure of prohibition to deter use for the last 95 years in Canada.

image: SchoolFinder

Cannabis is not harmless. Inhaling smoke, be it from wildfires, tobacco, or cannabis carries risks. But banning cannabis is not the way to control those risks.

Education is. Education has reduced the consumption of tobacco. Reductions have been especially greater for those with a higher education according to a report from Statistics Canada.

TRU has nine designated locations where tobacco and medical marijuana can be smoked. Once cannabis is legalized on October 17, those locations would be a logical place for recreational cannabis smokers as well.

TRU’s Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee voted on March 5, 2018, to ban all smoking of recreational marijuana on campus for health and safety reasons. Chris Montoya, committee member and Senior Lecturer in Psychology, says not all of the 20-member committee agreed:

“Pro-marijuana smokers on the TRU committee argued that marijuana smoke is no different than cigarette smoke and that smoking areas designated for cigarette smoke should also be used for marijuana.”

But they were apparently swayed by arguments  presented by Montoya: cannabis is more potent than ever before, bystanders can get stoned from second-hand smoke, and marijuana has been linked with psychoses.

Montoya is a member of the National Advisory Council (2016-18) and the Partnership for a Drug Free Canada. He repeated some of his claims to Kamloops This Week:

“A student cannot get drunk walking next to another student drinking a beer. However, students, staff and faculty can get stoned breathing in second-hand smoke.”

Ian Mitchell, Kamloops Emergency Physician, disagrees:

“There have been a series of studies in which non-smokers are shut into a small room with cannabis smokers and tested for both impairment and positive urine tests. While these things can happen, it is only under the most extreme circumstances,” he told me by message.

A doctoral student in clinical psychology at UBC Okanagan also disagrees with Montoya:

“Researchers at John Hopkins University have been conducting studies on the effects of cannabis smoke exposure to non-users and have found that, under regular indoor conditions, non-smokers did not experience changes in cognitive ability –i.e. ’get high,’” says Michelle Thiessen in a letter to KTW.

There are places on campus for students and staff to drink alcohol as well as smoke cigarettes. TRU spokesperson, Darshan Lindsay, told CFJC Today: “There are a lot of regulations, systems in place to promote responsible use of alcohol. We just don’t have that in place for cannabis. For the university, recognizing that we are a place of education and that we want to promote an environment that’s safe and healthy for everyone, our position is that recreational cannabis should not be present on campus.”

Failing to have a “place for cannabis” perpetuates the notion that prohibition will reduce cannabis use. Banning cannabis has a predictable effect -it simply drives consumption into the shadows and prevents dealing with the risks.

TRU should become a model in harm reduction, as “a place of education.”

Prohibition is futile: TRU might as well prohibit wildfires -it would be as effective.