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Hugh MacIntyre: The economic argument for legalized marijuana


The Liberal Party over the weekend voted to “legalize and regulate” the selling of marijuana. This issue has the potential to breathe life back into the Liberals if they approach it the right way. As it stands now the party’s best chance of regaining at least second place is by putting the marijuana issue front and centre.

More than one pundit has scoffed at the decision to include legalization in its policy document. Even interim leader Bob Rae made a joke of it during his keynote speech. But it’s not a joke and the party is missing the boat on what could be a game changer.

For me the issue of marijuana is one of liberty versus state overreach. It is an unjust law that attempts to control the choices and the lives of individuals. Smoking pot does not harm others, only the smoker, and the smoker has the right to decide what sort of harm he or she enjoys.

For Liberals the issue could be about money and the economy.

It would be a huge boon for government revenue, without even needing to add a “sin tax” to the legal sales of marijuana. All the unreported income and potential sales tax from Canada’s most profitable cash crop would suddenly be available. It would represent a new source of revenue without having to raise taxes by even a dime.

On the spending side, billions of dollars would be saved by ending the illicit marijuana trade. Some of the money would likely go to whatever regulatory framework the government created, but it would have to be a monstrous bureaucracy indeed to equal the massive sum that now goes towards investigating, prosecuting, and jailing someone in the marijuana trade. The Liberals could claim credit for closing the deficit faster than the Conservatives, and might even have money left over for one of their foolish pet projects.

With the deficit eliminated with relative ease and debt being paid down, Canada would be in a unique fiscal position for a G8 and G20 country. We can expect that confidence in Canada would soar even higher and investment would flood in as investors flee the crumbling economies of Europe.

The best part is that Canadians by and large already agree that marijuana should be legalized. They also think the economy should be the priority. It would not be difficult to connect the two issues and convince Canadians to vote for a party that has the most painless plan to put Canada’s fiscal house back in order.

The resolution approved at the convention is non-binding. So there is no guarantee the issue will be in the 2015 Liberal election platform. In fact Canadian political parties have a history of  ignoring policy resolutions from conventions, so the chances of this one being taken up are pretty low. Hopefully the party leadership will take a moment to closely examine legalization and realize the potential. It would not only be the best thing for the Liberals but for Canada as well.


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