Pass the Government Grass

Winnipeg Free Press, November 21, 2015 | Go to article overview

Pass the Government Grass


It didn't take long for the Selinger government to smell the "charm" of legalized marijuana. The potential windfall from a liberalized era of lighting up is perfectly intoxicating. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised legalized pot will hit the streets soon enough, and there's going to be tax revenue in that.

That's why pot got special mention in Premier Greg Selinger's throne speech, noting Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries is perfectly positioned to act as the middle man in the marijuana trade. Mr. Selinger warns pot is highly addictive and therefore too risky to put in the hands of the private sector. So, he made clear liquor marts alone will be both buyer and seller of marijuana.

This is no big surprise. The NDP government, after all, can barely bring itself to cede the smallest of market share to private wine and beer sales. That puts Manitoba ice ages behind other countries and even other provinces, where grown-ups are treated like adults. The sale of weed is likely to be confined to government shops. Windows barred, hours curbed and staff unionized.

Nanny-statism aside, this is not about saving people from their dark side. No, regulating, distributing and selling vice is big business for a state monopoly. (Controlling access to alcohol, for example, returns more than just tax revenue as the markup on products fattens the province's bottom line.)

After MLL, which also operates gambling halls, pays its costs, pretty much all of what it clears each year flows directly into the provincial treasury. Last year, that was worth $601 million. Tobacco, the perennial go-to for tax hikes, still drops more than $250 million into the coffers despite the fact retailers are forbidden to display the perfectly legal product.

But the returns on cigarettes are falling, year after year. …

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