The Broadbent Blog


“Between Two Joints, You Could Get Up and Do Something”*

*Editor’s note: the original quote (“ent’deux joints tu pourrais faire qu’qu’chose, ent’deux joints tu pourrais t’grouiller l’cul”) is the refrain of a popular 1973 Robert Charlebois song, lyrics by Pierre Bourgault, entitled “Entr’ deux joints”.

According to Statistics Canada, the illegal cannabis industry was already generating 5.6 billion dollars in profits in 2017 and each Canadian was rolling the equivalent of 20 g of cannabis.

Even before cannabis became officially legal on October 17, companies were raking it in on the floor of the Toronto Stock Exchange: according to Bloomberg, the new green gold industry was already worth 80 billion dollars in September 2018. Deloitte predicted that legalization would boost the Canadian economy by 22.6 billion dollars annually when you include production, distribution, tourism, business taxes and numerous cannabis products.

And what about those cannabis products? The temptation to get into the market is enormous! Molson Coors Canada has signed a partnership with Gatineau-based HEXO Corp. to develop a cannabis-infused drink. Another beer industry giant, Corona, invested 5 billion dollars in Canadian cannabis producer Canopy Growth. Even Coca-Cola is in negotiations with Canadian cannabis companies to come up with a new cannabis-based drink. The pot market is now stoked by companies already selling controlled and regulated substances like alcohol.

Should we be surprised to learn that others who retail controlled drugs like pharmaceuticals want a piece of the action? Pharmaceutical giant Shoppers Drug Mart, for example, got their licence as a cannabis producer approved on September 21, 2018!

In terms of pot production per se, it seems that the saying “the grass is always greener on the other side” – in this case, that of our neighbours – is true. Canadian provinces have signed deals with many producers, offering them a chance to get in on the green gold rush: Ontario has agreements with 26 companies, British Columbia with 31 and Alberta with 13. In distinct society Québec, only six companies were offered similar sweet deals, and just one, HEXO Corp., is headquartered in the province. These firms are now leading the pack of cannabis companies listed on the Stock Exchange with a market capitalization of nearly 50 billion dollars as of October 15, 2018. And now, I am really tempted to point out the huge elephant in the room, which is ridden by a ghost carrying revenue and quality jobs that publicly-run cannabis production could have created…

 

OFFENCES BY THE THOUSANDS

All these numbers can really make your head spin, but not as much as the price paid by those who smoked dope when it was still a crime.

The amnesty program recently announced by the federal government is certainly a step in the right direction, but it isn’t enough to right the wrongs committed over the years. The program will need major improvements so that those previously convicted of marijuana possession can get a pardon as fast as it takes to get a licence to grow cannabis now.

Since Justin Trudeau’s election in 2015 through to 2017, over 164,000 cannabis-related offences were committed in Canada with more than 57,700 people convicted of cannabis-related crimes.

While billions of dollars are legally pouring into the Toronto Stock Exchange, more than 500,000 Canadians are stuck with a criminal record for a crime which no longer exists.

The criminalization-legalization paradox is callous: 500,000 convicted individuals versus a handful of CEOs, a criminal record versus being listed on the Stock Exchange. The former group will struggle to find jobs because of cannabis, while the latter will get rich for the same reason. The Canadian government licenses pot producers but people who have smoked it may be refused access to social housing. And, while a dozen postsecondary institutions now offer cannabis-related programs of study, individuals convicted of cannabis possession could be ineligible for student bursaries because of their criminal record.

And that’s not all. An investigation by VICE News, published on April 18, 2018, showed that Black and Indigenous people have been overrepresented in cannabis possession arrests across Canada since Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister, even though they consume no more pot than white people. According to a study by Québec’s Commission des droits de la personne et de la jeunesse, Black people in Montréal are seven times more likely than whites to be arrested for cannabis possession. In Toronto, it’s three times more and in Halifax, five times more. The same is true for Indigenous people, who experience just as much discrimination across the country and are vastly overrepresented in prisons compared to their numbers in the general population. It is no different when it comes to pot smoking: if you are Black or Indigenous, it’s a bad trip.

 

WHAT ABOUT “WEED REPERATIONS”?

Have you heard about the “Cannabis Equity Program” set up by the city of Oakland, California? The city reserves half of its cannabis permits for people who have been convicted of a cannabis crime, or for low-income city residents living in areas where a disproportionate number of cannabis-related arrests have occurred. On top of that, the city provides financial support to start up and build these businesses. This kind of initiative not only promotes social equality, but also provides real redress to those individuals targeted by cannabis criminalization in the past, helping to break the cycle of hardship and poverty in which they find themselves.

It seems to me that building a new network of solidarity, increasing the number of small entrepreneurs, revitalizing neighbourhoods, reducing the social costs of poverty and sharing the benefits of green gold fairly with everyone are all better than simply allowing a handful of companies listed on the Stock Market to accumulate billions of dollars with no concern for social justice. Furthermore, the government would be completely justified in investing tax dollars and other returns from the cannabis industry into communities that were systematically and unfairly targeted for pot crimes. Simply talking about reconciliation while perpetuating injustice without righting the wrongs is just blowing smoke! We have a golden opportunity not to take that toke, but rather to take a stand against inequality and injustices that have no place in today’s world.

This blogpost has been translated from French and originally appeared in La Presse.