Yesterday, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced that if cannabis is legalized in Canada as planned, she’d like the drug to be sold in provincially-owned LCBO stores.
While it is arguable that a provincially controlled distribution model is best for public health, as per the recent CAMH legalization framework suggests, I am not sure drug policy experts were thinking it would end up next to the vodka on the shelves on the LCBO. And besides, why should the LCBO get another monopoly on cannabis, as well as alcohol?
First and foremost, cannabis’ risk profile is clearly incomparable to alcohol. From a recent study, researchers note:
“At least for the endpoint of mortality, THC/cannabis in both individual and population-based assessments would be above safety thresholds. In contrast, the risk of alcohol may have been commonly underestimated…for the society as a whole, the several ten-thousands of alcohol-related deaths considerably outnumber drug overdose deaths… A main finding of our study is the qualitative validation of previous expert-based approaches on drug-ranking (e.g. Nutt et al.), especially in regard to the positions of alcohol (highest in harms) and cannabis (lowest).”1
Additionally, what would it mean to have cannabis sold at the LCBO? How would it be priced? If legal cannabis does not undercut the pricing on the black market, you can expect that many people will continue to purchase their cannabis via alternative routes, thereby substantially limiting one of the major benefits to public health under a legalized regime: the elimination of the black market. With the LCBO controlling cannabis, expect prices to double.
Last month, Warren Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said if the LCBO sells pot it will work within a “strong regulatory framework,” where the drug is subject to a “ban on marketing.” This brings up another point: if we are finally using evidence to steer drug policy work, where the harm of the prohibition of cannabis far outweigh the harms of cannabis use itself, why aren’t we acknowledging the documented harms of alcohol? What will stop the overcommercialization of cannabis? Despite Wynne telling us, the LCBO is a “socially responsible” approach, I’m not convinced.
How will LCBO employees be trained on cannabis? If we want to take an evidence based approach to legalization, this should include proper education, particularly at the point of purchase, which talks about effects – both positive and negative, various strains, and administration.
Finally, with so much research coming out about the substitution effect of cannabis – not just in terms of how many cannabis users are able to decrease their opiate and other drug consumption for medical purposes, but also how those with substance misuse problems are able to use cannabis in lieu of other substances (a type of harm reduction approach), there seems to be something inherently wrong about positioning cannabis right next to liquor. Further, if we look at states in the U.S which have legalized recreational use, many specifically do not permit alcohol and pot to be sold at the same place. It seems irresponsible of our government to encourage the mixing of the two, when we know the mixture of cannabis and alcohol can cause elevated effects of intoxication.
I had always thought that whenever it became legalized the government of Ontario would sell it like the LCBO, but I didn’t expect them to actually sell it in the LCBO. Prepare to have your dime bags sell for 40 bucks, kids.