The winding road to legalized marijuana 

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Whistler has always had a budding relationship with marijuana.

It has its own commercial producer licensed to grow medical marijuana in the Whistler Medical Marijuana Company, which operates out of a 10,800-square-foot facility in Function Junction.

And, while Whistler officials have limited the production of medicinal pot to one facility in the community to date, there is no doubt that personal use is and always has been a fact of life in the resort — despite being illegal.

Now, with the election of the Liberals, the party's sexiest campaign promise — legalizing marijuana for personal use — looks set to become a reality.

New Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made it clear that any changes must not make it easier for minors to get their hands on the drug — indeed he has said the changes would make it even harder — and that he intends to get the profits away from organized crime.

And it is likely that the details will be left to the provinces to manage — such as what the legal age would be to inhale, and how it would be sold. Would it be available through a Crown corporation, such as the B.C. Liquor Stores or would it be sold through private businesses?

Some jurisdictions might ban the sale altogether.

But the carrot for all levels of government in this is the sales tax.

Just look at the experience of Colorado in the U.S. It legalized marijuana for personal use, despite the fact that use is still illegal federally, in 2012.

Last year marijuana sales generated $76 million in revenue (on $700-million in sales). It is taxed at 25 per cent, and depending on the strain, marijuana sells for anywhere between US$8 and $20 a gram.

In 2014, Colorado issued 322 permits to pot stores, plus another 2,000 for medical dispensaries. Such outlets sold nearly 150,000 pounds of weed in the state in 2014 — but that was dwarfed by a whopping 4,815,650 "units" of edible products.

Wow!

Studies have estimated that legal marijuana production is worth about $80-to $100-million in this country and, once it's allowed to grow, Aaron Salz, an analyst for Dundee Capital Markets told the Globe and Mail that he sees a $5-billion market lighting up. Not a new market mind you, the lion's share of the black market, he said.

A poll done by Forum Research found that almost two out of every 10 Canadians reported having consumed marijuana in the past year, but more than 30 per cent of poll respondents said they would do so in the next year if it were legal.

The poll also found that 59 per cent would support new laws to legalize, tax and regulate recreational marijuana with some conditions. About 31 per cent could be considered potential marijuana users, and based on Canada's adult population of about 26 million that means there are roughly eight-million people across the country that are potential customers.

"(Canadians) are just as much in favour of legalization as they were before the election, if not more, but they want to see it strictly licensed and controlled, not grown in basements and sold in corner stores," Forum president Lorne Bozinoff told CBC.

The pollsters contacted a random sampling of 1,256 Canadians from Nov. 4 to 7. The poll is considered to have a margin or error of plus or minus three per cent, 19 times out of 20.

But the road to legalization has not been without its potholes for those jurisdictions that have taken it on.

Travel agencies to toke have popped up in U.S. states that have legalized pot, but they have run into hurdles as travellers can buy pot but are not allowed to smoke it in public nor in their hotels — as that is illegal under federal law.

For police agencies, there are issues too. For example, there is no way to easily check for impairment while driving due to marijuana use, so getting people off the road and charging them in the states that have legalized use is challenging. Cannabix Technologies hopes to have a handheld breathalyser for drug-impaired drivers developed in the next two years – that's a long wait.

Especially true considering that a report form the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA) program found that marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 92 per cent from 2010 to 2014 in Colorado.

In Denver, there are now more medical marijuana centres (198) than pharmacies (117).

That same report also found that marijuana use has essentially doubled among adults and youths aged 12 to 17 since Colorado legalized the recreational use and sale of the drug.

So while it is clear that the world in general is leaning toward relaxing laws on marijuana use, there is still a long way to go on figuring out how to manage its use responsibly in society.

Perhaps the best thing for the Liberals to do at this stage is watch the unfolding experiment south of the border and take the lessons learned there to heart.

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