Pallister should stop the inflammatory rhetoric on pot

The premier should focus on plan for legalization next summer

Graphic by Kelly Campbell.

Last week was a head-spinning journey in Manitoba politics. Yes, pot was involved.

One day after Premier Brian Pallister voiced scathing criticisms of the federal government’s plans to legalize the recreational use and sale of marijuana by July 2018, he revealed the province would be rolling out its own plans for legalization in the coming weeks.

He is not happy about it, though. When Pallister told reporters that Manitoba is “ahead of other provinces” in planning for legalization, he quickly added: “that doesn’t mean I like it.”

The announcement came during a press conference with Justice Minister Heather Stefanson and other cabinet members, held to discuss the results of the PC’s online survey – which Dan Lett called “the polling equivalent of a data garbage Dumpster” in the Winnipeg Free Press – on a range of issues including marijuana, proposed health care premiums, and the government’s fiscal policy.

It seems that in the face of a looming deadline to get their ducks in a row, the PCs are trying to have it both ways in the marijuana debate: to complain and sulk to please the conservative base, but also have a plan ready so the province can rake in the revenues when July lands and pot smokers start taking hits.

During the press conference, Stefanson pointed to the fact that 22 per cent of the survey’s respondents said the legal age of marijuana consumption should be 21 as an indication that “a significant number of Manitobans are concerned about young people getting involved and engaging with cannabis.”

Stefanson completely overlooked the fact that 60 per cent of respondents said the legal consumption age should be 18.

It seems the provincial government does not mind ignoring the will of the public when it suits their glum narrative.

If the PCs want to set the legal consumption age at 21, that is okay though: the Trudeau government has given the provinces and territories almost complete jurisdiction in regulating and distributing legal pot with the stipulation that the legal age of consumption be a minimum of 18 years.

What is not okay is the premier’s continued immature public rambling on the issue that has not seemed to serve any purpose other than to give Trudeau a headache.

Last week, Pallister said that by being transparent about marijuana legalization plans, the federal government was forcing the province to, in essence, lay out their business plan to their competitors: organized crime. The premier then said the gangs would use that information to get the upper hand on distributing pot in the province and render these months of government planning useless.

He supplied no evidence to back up this fairly ridiculous claim.

Back in July, when Pallister claimed that there simply would not be enough pot for sale legally by next summer to compete with the black market, University of Winnipeg criminal justice professor Michael Weinrath called him out in the Winnipeg Free Press.

Weinrath said that research done in Washington and Colorado, states that legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2012 and 2014, respectively, showed crime rates did not soar, but rather, tourism and tax revenues did.

“Generally, public sellers of marijuana do not have to provide drugs at a lower price than organized crime, because most people will prefer to purchase product from a private vendor,” Weinrath told the Free Press.

The premier has been acting up on this issue for months. During the Council of the Federation meeting in Edmonton in July, Pallister reacted to Trudeau’s insistence that legalization remain on track for July 2018 with sarcasm.

“That’s great. The prime minister wants to stick to his deadline, that’s super-duper,” said our premier.

Pallister and his government should be focused on creating viable business and regulation plans for the legalization of recreational marijuana, not slinging mud at Ottawa over trivial disagreements. Issues like detecting impaired driving and reasonable taxation are serious challenges that are being drowned out by this political posturing.

Over the next few weeks, as the government begins to roll out their plan, they should head this advice: leave the politics out of pot.