On Marijuana Legalization, Let's Not Repeat Prohibition Mistakes

Marijuana legalization was one of Justin Trudeau’s flagship policies after becoming leader of the Liberal Party of Canada in 2013. Going into the 2015 election it became one of the Liberal Party’s policy planks, and it’s easy to see why. Public opinion on marijuana use has changed drastically over the last few decades. A Nanos poll in 2016 showed that 7 in 10 Canadians support or somewhat support the legalization of recreational marijuana, with majorities in every province and among every age group (1).

As a policy it makes sense, one of the primary tasks of government should be promoting the liberty of its citizens. Any inconvenience with legalization is outweighed by the simple argument that people in a free society should be able to choose whether they want to light up or not. Previous debate on the issue asked the wrong question. We should not be asking why should marijuana be made legal, but why should prohibition continue? As Thomas Jefferson once said, “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”

The problem is, several Canadian provinces just don’t get it. The Liberal government in Ontario appears to be actively working to create a regulatory regime that is worse than prohibition. Rather than allowing private businesses to sell what will soon be a legal product, they are continuing to shut down dispensaries in anticipation of forcing sales through government run retail outlets. Ontario is duplicating their unnecessarily complicated, government-controlled alcohol sales regime that came out of the pearl-clutching temperance movement.

While it should be no surprise to see Ontario taking a heavy-handed approach to regulation, other provincial governments attempts (or proposals) have been equally disappointing. New Brunswick’s Public Safety Minister Denis Landry announced recently that marijuana would be treated like firearms (2). Yes, you read that correctly. New Brunswick’s proposed regulatory regime will require people to keep their stash in a locked container or locked room, just like the onerous requirements of federal firearms legislation. These rules are as stupid as they are unnecessary.

Forcing Ontarians to shop at government-run stores just repeats the mistakes of prohibition. The best part of marijuana legalization is that it gives us back a choice that government had stolen from us. Why limit choice to government controlled stores when private dispensaries are up to the task? Let us choose where we shop. Why force people to lock up a legal product in their own homes? Let us choose how we want to store it. Provincial governments intent on micromanaging legalization are missing an opportunity to give Canadians a choice. If the provinces give us a chance to choose, they’ll find us more than up to the task.


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