“The idea that municipalities can opt out is a bad joke. Those cities and towns that opt out will be wide open to gang activity - it makes no sense.” — OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Toronto (14 Aug 2018) — Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE), says Premier Doug Ford is irresponsibly throwing caution to the wind with his move to privatize cannabis sales.
Privatizing cannabis sales means that the province will lose revenue that is urgently needed for health care and other public services. Monitoring private retailers to ensure that they are following rules such as not selling to minors and that they don’t have links to organized crime will eat up even more money. The only winners are the wealthy businesspeople who will own the private cannabis stores.
These are some of the reasons why experts on cannabis supported public retailing of recreational cannabis.
Large retailers see selling cannabis as a chance to get richer at the public's expense
A number of large, well-connected corporations are keen to sell recreational cannabis. Among them is Loblaws, which is already profiting from the privatization of alcohol sales. And, unlike public health experts, these companies have a lot of money to spend on lobbying politicians.
“The cannabis lobby is a powerful one, and it’s made up mainly of former Liberal and Tory staffers,” said Thomas. “If Ford was truly for the people, he wouldn’t give handouts to his friends in high places - he’d listen to the experts, and he’d listen to the people.”
Publicly controlled stores only way to ensure organized crime isn’t profiting from cannabis legalization
Allowing large corporations to skim off the profits from selling recreational cannabis, while the public foots the bill for health and safety costs related to its use, is only part of the problem. There is also a danger that companies with links to organized crime could get licences to sell cannabis.
Federal and provincial laws on registering corporations are very weak and make it hard for law enforcement officials to figure out who really controls a company. This is already being used by criminals laundering money and by tax cheats. In the debate on legalizing recreational cannabis, the Senate recognized the problem weak corporate registration laws would cause and attempted to bring in stronger requirements for companies selling cannabis. Unfortunately, the federal government rejected this measure so there is no way to know who really controls private companies getting permits to sell cannabis.
Allowing municipalities to opt-out only increases problems
It is municipal governments that will be footing the bill for many of the costs that are likely to come with privatizing recreational cannabis sales. The Conservatives have attempted to deflect criticism of privatization by allowing city or town councils a one-time opportunity to ban cannabis sales within their municipal boundaries. Thomas pointed out that this measure is ineffective.
“The idea that municipalities can opt out is a bad joke,” said Thomas. “Those cities and towns that opt out will be wide open to gang activity - it makes no sense.”
Cannabis sales need to be an issue in municipal elections
Because of the cost of privatizing recreational cannabis sales, OPSEU will be making the privatization of cannabis sales a hot-button issue in the upcoming municipal election.
“We must make the public sale of cannabis a top municipal election issue. Fight for a sensible safe plan for cannabis sales and just say no to Doug’s,” said Thomas.
“With Ford’s drive-by, off-the-cuff style of decision making, we’re headed down a dangerous road,” said Thomas. “It’s going to take highly progressive and principled individuals to stand up to Ford, but that’s exactly who we need on our councils.”
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE