Tuesday 06 Dec 2016

The Vice Index
David Simmonds

While we all wait for Justin Trudeau to legalize the stuff, Premier Kathleen Wynne thinks it’s worth investigating whether the LCBO should control the sale of pot.


Maybe the LCBO has some in-house expertise ....

I suppose it’s not too far fetched an idea. Maybe the LCBO has some in-house expertise; “I’m promoting you, Hastings, because of that Bob Marley T-shirt you wear to work.” Could the LCBO transfer its wine expertise into the drafting of new tasting notes; “A long lasting and deep high, best paired with taco chips?”

In order to determine whether the LCBO is the right outfit to take charge of selling pot, we need a little context. Take beer. It’s has sold at The Beer Store, owned privately. Small quantity sales are opening up in grocery stores and LCBO outlets; large quantities, no sir.

Selling any beer at convenience stores is out of the question. Take tobacco; it’s sold mainly at licensed convenience stores. You can’t buy tobacco at the LCBO or The Beer Store. Take spirits, only available at the LCBO and that’s not about to change any time soon. Take wine; no, let’s not, it’s much too complicated. Take pot; currently, it’s sold through mail order and storefront dispensaries, with a prescription and for medicinal purposes.


Is pot more like beer or tobacco?

Now is pot more like beer or tobacco? Does it depend on whether the beer is for medicinal purposes, too? If the Wynne government agrees, with some experts, that alcohol is bad for us and the franchise should belong to the LCBO, why does it put out glossy brochures every month encouraging us to drink? At the same time, you daren’t advertise a tobacco product and have to sell it in a package that say, “Smoking kills babies.”

Let’s try a broader perspective. Take sugar, salt, fat and processed meats. Respected health authorities have waved flags; yet, you and I can waltz into a grocery store and buy pop, pretzels, cream and beef jerky in unlimited quantities; unless, of course, these items are on special, in which case there’s a perfectly logical per-customer limit. Take gambling; if we want to ‘gamble,’ we can only do so at a licensed casino or slots; yet, if we want to ‘purchase a lottery ticket’ or six or seven, we can just go to our corner store and drop the same amount as we might at the casino or bingo hall.

The search for context, after all that, leaves us no wiser. Yet, if you and I were designing a system to regulate access to these potentially harmful substances, would we not be, well, more systematic about it? Would we not do some sort of social effect and cost and benefit analysis, come up with a rating of how much risk a particular product poses and then control access to it accordingly? Alcohol, for instance, might receive an overall vice index rating of, say, seven out of 10. That might compare to a five, say, for pot and a six, say, for cigarettes. A cut off level might be established so the government would not control the sale of anything with a vice index lower than four; thereby sparing, say, beef jerky from the regulator’s thumb.


Would we not do some sort of social effect and cost and benefit analysis ....

Of course, if you and I were designing a system, we would quickly be asking each other whether we were trying to put into place a ‘nanny state’ philosophy or a ‘libertarian’ philosophy. We might find ourselves wanting to do a little more research into the effect of the vice indexed substances, individual by individual. For instance, although the LCBO doesn’t sell to the obviously drunk, it will sell to the known alcoholic. Why should his propensity to over-consume affect the product’s vice index rating for me?

If we wanted to be comprehensive, in the development of our vice index, we’d also look beyond substances to lifestyle. Suppose Ms A wants to learn to water ski. Will she be taking lessons? The risk of injury is quite high, especially at her age and the carbon footprint is heavy, compared to, say, hiking in the woods. Perhaps she’d present a lesser risk of harm to herself and society if she were encouraged to stay home and smoke pot. Suppose Mr B plans to buy a new pickup truck. Can he afford it? How badly does he need it? Will he drive it to the casino to feed his gambling habit?

Perhaps trying to apply questions like these will be good practice as we move to our Paris-inspired low carbon lifestyles.

If legalization and control of pot is going to be done, ‘tis best ‘twere done well, as some Shakespearian character once said. So, please, take your time, Mr. Trudeau; Ms. Wynne needs every free day she can find to develop a vice index and a set of coherent policies with which to administer it.

 

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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