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Editorials

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Colorado high coming this way?

Posted: 01/6/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Colorado opened a recreational marijuana industry on New Year's Day, causing a buzz around the globe as nations took note of the world's first fully legal pot industry.

There were long lineups, but no signs of reefer madness or outbreaks of silliness or dangerous behaviour as thousands of state residents purchased the mood-altering drug without fear of arrest or prosecution. In fact, police kept a watchful eye over the revelry to ensure the historic moment went off smoothly.

Other countries, such as the Netherlands, have tolerated an unregulated marijuana industry for decades, but the land of free enterprise has implemented strict rules for the operation of its newest taxable industry.

Consumers can only purchase up to one ounce at a time (less for tourists) and it cannot be resold or given to anyone under 21. It can't be smoked in public or while driving. Retailers must purchase their product from licensed suppliers.

The new business could earn Colorado more than $70 million in taxes in the first year from as many as 300 retailers, although the number could easily grow if the new industry attracts marijuana tourists from nearby states and Canadian provinces. It is illegal, however, to transport the product out of Colorado.

The state of Washington is preparing to introduce a similar system, which will undoubtedly appeal to Canadians on its northern border.

Presently in Canada, simple possession is still illegal, although the government is considering a proposal of the Association of Chiefs of Police to hand out tickets rather than criminal offence notices.

For the most part, however, the Harper government is clinging to old attitudes and has shown no interest in following Colorado's lead. In fact, the Conservatives have actually increased penalties for some marijuana offences.

Colorado's experience during the next few years, however, will provide the best evidence of what to expect in a regulated, partially decriminalized environment.

Canadians and legislators will be watching closely for any negative impacts, such as an increase in crime or more cases of driving under the influence.

Some critics fear it will lead to use of harder drugs, but it's a specious argument. Millions of people use marijuana without falling into a heroin trap.

The fact is marijuana is a popular drug and arguably less harmful than cigarettes or alcohol.

If the Colorado experiment is a success, it will be harder for Ottawa's legislators to argue against a similar program.

The times are changing, and it's time Canada caught up, rather than looking for ways to reverse the trend.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 6, 2014 A8

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