Tuesday, June 23, 2015

3 Reasons Why Gregor Robertson is like Stephen Harper

gregor harper.jpg
Also available at Cannabis in Canada.ca

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson sounds like he disagrees with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on cannabis. Harper is a fear-mongering drug warrior (and an unsuccessful one at that), while Robertson is the mayor of Vansterdam! One of them oversees a country that has turned the legalization clock back ten years while the other heads a city that appears ten years ahead of the rest of the country. But Robertson’s actions are suspect ever since he and City Council sought to regulate dispensaries, tried to cancel Cannabis Day, and committed to banning vapour lounges, all within a 60-day period. To the contemporary mind, Robertson and Harper couldn't be further apart. But to those that question the motivations of the political class, it couldn't be more obvious. BC's relatively free and fair cannabis market is under threat by crony-capitalist interests and government bureaucracy at all levels.

1. City Regulation

Regulation is supposed to legitimatize the industry; the complaints are about the specifics: the business license fee is too high, the 300-meter range is arbitrary, the ban on edibles is now unconstitutional, etc. But few question the motives behind regulation. The superficial ones are easy to spot, but the problem, as I've pointed out in another piece, is that government regulation is always ineffective and costly. But more than that, it's dangerous.

For example, the lack of regulation of Vancouver's dispensaries poses a problem that could be solved by an entrepreneur. A business could offer consumers and business owners a regulation service that ensures quality and safety standards are met as determined by the users of that industry. In fact, that business already exists. But instead the government is claiming industry regulation to be one of its roles in society. However, with a government monopoly consumers are forced to pay for this regulatory agency whether it does an effective job or not.

Government regulatory agencies aren't threatened by bankruptcy. “Regulatory Capture” occurs when special interests take over the regulatory agency and turn it against their competitors. They “capture” it precisely because of this lack of bankruptcy or competitors on the part of the regulatory agency. Special interests can use regulatory agencies to make their competition unprofitable. Regulatory agencies can and will become corrupted; working for the people they claim to be regulating.

Since LPs are the only legal supply of cannabis in Canada, it is in their interest to provoke the supply discussion. And indeed, this has been a topic of discussion. While City Manager Penny Ballem insists that the city is only regulating the business and not the product, the question of supply keeps coming up.

The City says the regulations allow the potential for up to 90 dispensaries to exist. But in order for that to be true, the dispensaries would have to be a perfect 300-meters apart. That assumes there is sufficient retail space available in the zoning areas the City has allocated for them. It's clear that not all existing dispensaries will survive the regulatory process. The prospect of having 90 dispensaries post-regulation looks highly unlikely when in reality, that number will dwindle to a politically connected cartel open to LP influence.

All that the Mayor has done with the regulation proposal is ensure that the LPs have a regulatory framework in which to capture.

2. Cannabis Day Cancellation

Cannabis Day at the Vancouver Art Gallery has grown from a few hundred people to over twenty thousand last year. This year the City sent a letter to the organizers – not even 30 days notice – denying them their right of peaceful assembly. The City must have forgotten that this is a protest, not a sanctioned festival. Trying to stop over 20,000 people is unrealistic. What had blossomed into a full day of farmers’ markets (no LP cartels, just small farmers) is now regressing back to just standing around smoking.

The protest will go on, don't you worry. But Robertson got exactly what he wanted: create a problem (no Cannabis Day farmers’ market), watch the culture react and then offer the solution (okay we'll let you protest, but no farmers’ market). Meanwhile his ulterior motive goes unexamined, eradicating the farmers’ market from the protest.

What was the MMPR? It was an attempt by the Harper government to destroy the BC Bud market. But it was also the model for recreational legalization. Once the former market of cannabis growers – 50% of them in BC – were eliminated, the LPs could then proceed with being the only supply. Legalization in Canada was designed to look like Washington state's, where growing for personal use remains illegal and where one must get the approval of the business licensing bureau (who isn't accepting any more applications) before they can grow or sell.

The Coalition put a stop to this plan with the Allard injunction, but the MMPR remains and so does the fight for independent gardens and farms. The Vancouver Art Gallery protests on April 20th and July 1st were full-fledged, multiple city-block farmers’ markets. They were free markets. It's no different from the dozens of farmers’ markets throughout the city in the summer months. Vancouver prides itself on being environmentally conscious, for focusing on farmers’ markets and away from big corporations with GMO products. But by banning the farmers’ markets from the Cannabis Day protest, Mayor Robertson is legitimizing the Harper message that Ottawa's crony-capitalists take precedent over BC's entrepreneurs, that corporate industrial sites are superior to local mom and pop farmers.

This unintended consequence or deliberate effect plays right into the Harper agenda of keeping the supply chain out of BC and tightly controlled by Ottawa. All that Mayor has done with banning the Cannabis Day farmers’ market is to ensure that BC's farmers stay out of sight and out of mind.

3. Banning Vapour Lounges

“What we know is the public-health people in this country and in other places in the world have determined that vaping has a real risk to people’s health,” City Manager Penny Ballem told The Globe and Mail. But if public health was the issue, then the City would be in the business of banning fast food restaurants, cigarettes, alcohol, and hundreds of legal goods and services that are far more dangerous. Even Health Canada in their most absurd contradictory statements approve of vaping as the “correct” way to inhale “dried marihuana” (which they don't approve of by the way,) so what is the real issue here? It's clearly not our benevolent civil servants acting in their selfless altruistic ways.

Like the dispensaries, vapour lounges are technically illegal. Thanks to an anti-smoking bylaw amended last autumn, vaping is considered smoking and it's outlawed in public places. Even if that public place is private property, like all vapour lounges. Nobody is forced to enter a vapour lounge, and neighbourhood businesses have every right to complain and employ the police or courts if the vapour lounge infringes on their property. But to preemptively target vapour lounges as a risk to public health and safety is the ideology of the drug war. It is the ideology of the Harper government.

What is happening in Vancouver? Is City Hall drunk? (Careful, alcohol kills brain cells.) Or are political incentives taking precedent over what's right? These three issues have all happened in the last 60 days. If they were spread out over time, connecting the dots may have been a little far-fetched. But an unwarranted crack down on vapour lounges crosses the line. The motivations of this Mayor and City Council must be examined. Why has a city known for saying no to the drug war all of a sudden started to wage one, especially as an end to prohibition becomes a foregone conclusion? The answer can only rest in the hierarchy of the political class. Vancouver answers to British Columbia. BC answers to Ottawa. Ottawa answers to central bankers, but that is neither here nor there today. Ottawa's ideological drug war is infiltrating Vancouver's cannabis policies. The goal isn't to stamp out the cannabis culture. That would be impossible. But whatever Vancouver can do to help facilitate the LP-recreational model while systemically – and subversively – eradicating the farmers who made “BC Bud” a household name – well, that sure wouldn't stop Harper.

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