Reefer madness clouds UBCM

Based on comments coming out of the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in Whistler this week, local governments can't wait for marijuana to be legal in less than five weeks as an excuse to raise taxes.

"Legalization will cost money municipalities don't have," Federation of Canadian Municipalities president Clark Somerville told delegates, including Mayor Lyn Hall and most of Prince George city council. "Make sure you are pushing for a fair local share."

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Municipalities are eyeing getting $50 million of a proposed 10 per cent provincial sales tax on pot sales expected to raise $125 million in the first two years of legalization.

Local politicians, bureaucrats and RCMP brass are all talking about increased costs of policing, bylaw enforcement, licensing and land use and zone changes. Eric Stubbs, the former superintendent in Prince George and now assistant commissioner with the RCMP, said legalization will create more work, not less.

As any Crown counsel or defence lawyer would reply to the earnest police officer, where's the evidence?

Where's the evidence traffic cops will be pulling over more people driving while stoned than they already are? Where's the evidence marijuana use will increase in Canada after legalization?

If anything, legalization could save the RCMP a significant amount of money and time each year. Officers will no longer be concerned with recreational cannabis use, unless it's behind the wheel. Furthermore, legit pot production and sales will sever a significant revenue stream for organized crime outfits, another gain for police forces.

Perhaps Stubbs has also forgotten that as late as 2013, the Association of Canadian Police Chiefs was calling on the federal government to decriminalize marijuana because of the huge time and financial costs to police to enforce the current pot laws.

Like the cops, local politicians and bureaucrats seem to be ignoring the benefits of cannabis legalization, with new small- and medium-sized businesses opening their doors, obtaining business licences, paying taxes, creating jobs and growing the economy.

The "sky is falling" fearmongering from local governments and the RCMP looks like a cynical plea for more money and another excuse to raise taxes. Under calm scrutiny, the reefer madness rational goes up in smoke.

Worst of all, this response might be trying to strangle the goose laying the golden egg.

The whole point of marijuana legalization was to take a black market activity where millions of otherwise law-abiding Canadians hand over billions of dollars each year to gangs and divert that money into the legal economy, with governments enjoying a handsome new revenue stream. There's money for governments to rake in from people's vices, which is why gambling and the sale of cigarettes and alcohol are legal and sales are heavily taxed and carefully monitored.

Pot will be no different.

Pacific Western Brewing, Northern Lights Estate Winery, Crossroads Brewing, Treasure Cove Casino and Trench Brewing are just some of the successful Prince George businesses that employ hundreds of local residents and pump hundreds of millions of dollars each year into the local economy through the production and sales of products and services that were once prohibited.

The sooner the City of Prince George starts seeing marijuana legalization as a business opportunity, the better.

Starting on Oct. 21, the day after the upcoming municipal election, mayor and council must show leadership on this file and give real direction to the planning and bylaw departments. The time for study and planning and fretting about change is over.

To put it another way: dude, chill. It'll be fine.

-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout

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