The Canadian government claims that the black market for marijuana is essentially a cash buffet for organized crime. But the feds aren't offering numbers to backup their argument, so it's hard to tell if they're portrayal of the nation's illegal cannabis industry is realistic or simply hysterical rhetoric.
Earlier this month, Ralph Goodale -- Canada's Minister of Public Safety -- spoke to reporters in Saskatoon about marijuana legalization. Goodale is one of three ministers tasked with overseeing legalization, so his input on the matter is significant. While taking about the failure of prohibition, Minister Goodale reiterated the government's reasons for legalizing cannabis - namely, "to make marijuana less available to young people and to cut off the flow - literally billions of illegal money, that flows to organized crime every year.”
But those figures don't match current research on the relationship between organized crime and black market marijuana.
Involvement of organized crime is exaggerated
Last month, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC) reported that the involvement of organized crime in the black market has been exaggerated.
"A 2011 federal Department of Justice report studied a random sample of 500 marijuana production cases, drawn from Crown prosecutor case files and RCMP criminal history files over an eight-year period," the CDPC wrote. "Only 5 percent of the files yielded any indication that the offender was affiliated with organized crime or street gangs."
The CDPC concluded, "The evidence base suggests that despite the illicit nature of the current cannabis market, it is not dominated by organized crime but rather by otherwise law-abiding citizens."
That message is strikingly different than the Goodale's characterization of the black market. Civilized reached out to the minister's office asking for clarification on the numbers offered to the press in Saskatoon. But Goodale hasn't responded.
Hopefully he will listen to the CDPC, which has called on Canada's marijuana task force to base regulations on research instead of rhetoric.
Canada's black market
Goodale's comments are not only counterproductive but potentially disastrous to the legalization regime that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government is trying to establish in Canada.
"Cannabis producers, both small and large, are an important part of the economy and should be considered as valuable contributors to the policy process," the CDPC wrote. "These are, generally speaking, individuals who want to participate in a legal market premised upon thoughtfully constructed regulations. We recommend that the new regulations be informed by and incorporate this representative segment of the pre-existing market in order to benefit from their insights and experience."
That's the message that activists groups like the Cannabis Friendly Business Association (CFBA) - an advocacy group representing Canada's illegal marijuana dispensaries and other canna-businesses -- have been trying to tell the government.
"[Dispensaries] want regulations, and they want to pay taxes, and they want to be a business," CFBA founder Abi Roach told Civilized last May. "They don't want to be in the black market anymore. And this is what the government is failing to understand on all levels, from federal to municipal. Cannabis is no longer a fringe thing. We're not a bunch of weirdos. We're just normal people. We're everyday people. We're me and you. And we don't want to be criminals. So when they think of making laws and regulations, they have to stop thinking with this prohibitionist mind and prohibitionist rhetoric. They have to think of us as people."
And if the government doesn't listen, Canada may wind up with an over-regulated market. "Erroneously painting current industry participants as organized criminals, with predatory actions and intentions, could lead to unfounded restrictions on participation in this emerging legal market," the CDPC warned the government.
That means Ralph Goodale and other ministers need to be more forthcoming about organized crime and to stop keeping Canadians in the dark about the black market.
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