Andrew Wilkinson: The big tobacco defender demonizing pot

By Drew Penner

British Columbia’s Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson’s recent comments to the media on the “troublesome” nature of the weed business have raised concerns among some residents excited about the coming public influx of cannabis cash.

The BC Liberal leader and former Attorney General told a Kamloops radio station last month the government should focus on punishing businesses that sell marijuana and attempted to throw cold water on the BC NDP’s designs on controlling the market.

“We know about the potential for marijuana to trigger psychosis and to cause brain injury to young children,” he said in a report published on Radio NL last month. “My view is this stuff may be lawful on July 1, but the government should not be in the business of selling it.”

Radio NL pulled that story[1], but, the Internet never forgets[2]

The NDP recently announced plans to allow the BC Liquor Distribution Branch to run a brand new chain of pot shops, something Wilkinson took issue with in an interview with Business in Vancouver.

“If they create these unionized jobs for people to handle marijuana and shuffle it around and take their own time distributing it, all that does is encourage continuation of the black market,” he said. “It drives up the cost base of the newly lawful marijuana business and makes it less likely that it would get any revenue off it because you’ve got to pay for this distribution system first.

And it only makes it more likely organized crime will remain a player in the black market, he added.

Both approaches are in stark contrast to California, where those with the most knowledge of the business, medical dispensaries, are rapidly being integrated into municipal and state regulatory structures for convenient consumer access. This has even benefitted Canadian investors, such as Captor Capital, a company that took a 3 per cent stake in MadMen, which served more than 26,000 customers in January, the first month weed was legal)[3]
One recent study did show young people who smoked marijuana at least five times were twice as likely to develop psychosis over the next 10 years as those who didn’t smoke pot[4]

But marijuana boosters say the research doesn’t prove pot causes psychosis or schizophrenia.

While the NDP didn’t want to respond directly to Andrew Wilkinson’s professed concern for the green leaf, Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth did send Thinkpol a statement about cannabis legalization policy and regulation.

“Our government is focused on responsibly managing this significant change in public policy,” Farnworth said in an email. “After months of engagement, additional research and analysis, our decisions on how non-medical cannabis will be regulated in B.C. ensure the needs and values of citizens are reflected while prioritizing the protection of young people, health and safety.”

In the statement the NDP stressed its desire to keep “cannabis out of the hands of criminals” and to maintain road safety.

Of course, there’s a certain irony to the fact that Wilkinson isn’t totally comfortable with the smoking up biz when in his own past he was helping companies in the smoking one.

As a representative for big tobacco he attempted to thwart the province’s bid to claw back billions of dollars in public health costs sent treating people with emphysema and lung cancer[5]

In his work for Philip Morris International Inc. he fought the Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act.

“Officials, at all material times, owed a duties of care to consumers, arising from their conduct in the development and implementation of operations programmes and initiatives respecting smoking and health, and in particular respecting tobacco related disease or the risk of tobacco related diseases,” read an argument by big tobacco players.

The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the argument, saying it was obvious the province didn’t intend Canada to be liable as a manufacturer of tobacco.

Perhaps now Wilkinson, who did not respond to requests for comment, is worried about the province becoming liable as a cannabis distributor.

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