British economists, politicians and marijuana legalization advocates have criticized the Canadian cannabis model after conducting a research trip to Ontario.
Volte Face, a campaign group that aims to see cannabis legalized in the UK, took a cross-party group of MPs across the Atlantic on a fact-finding mission. It also brought Chris Snowden, head of lifestyle economics at a think-tank called the Institute for Economic Affairs, along for the ride.
Snowden is known his libertarian views and his passionate opposition to all forms of nanny-stateism. He has now written a scathing review of his trip in The Spectator, lambasting the Canadian government for allowing over-regulation, taxation and a lack of competition to get in the way of seizing the initiative from the black market.
Cannabis sourced illegally remains a lot cheaper than the marijuana for sale in regulated retailers, while Snowden was underwhelmed by the consumer experience. He listed high prices, plain packaging and restrictive licensing conditions as the most troublesome aspects of the model.
“Everything about Toronto’s cannabis shops feels regulated to the last inch,” he said. “Browsing their shelves gave me a fresh appreciation for the subtle nudges of consumer capitalism. With logos and colours stripped from the packaging, there is nothing to signal quality, economy or potency; nothing to remember.”
He believes this has sucked the fun out of shopping for cannabis, making its consumers unlikely to switch from the black market. He urged the Canadian government to loosen up and allow more consumerism into “its noble experiment”.
Paul North, the external affairs director at Volte Face, came away with a similar impression. He warned that while a legal, regulated marijuana market is an improvement on the previous prohibition, shopping must be made easy and enjoyable for consumers, otherwise the black market will continue to flourish.
The three British MPs who took part in the trip, David Lammy, Norman Lamb and Jonathan Djanogly, said they feel the UK will legalize cannabis within five to 10 years. Lammy wrote a piece in the Guardian titled: “I’ve seen how cannabis legalisation works in Canada – Britain could do it better”.
He echoed the points made by North and Snowden about the need to make the retail industry more attractive to beat the black market. But he also warned that the cannabis industry should not be dominated by large corporations, as is the case in Canada.
He wants to see individuals from communities who have been disproportionately affected by marijuana prohibition being actively recruited to the supply side of any new market in the UK, following in the footsteps of a scheme underway in Michigan.
“The Canadian model is not perfect, but it is high time for the legal regulation of cannabis in the UK,” said Lammy.