Fraser Institute study calls for legal pot

Study says key question is not how to stop use of pot, but who should get the money involved.

Legalizing marijuana could add $2 billion to government coffers and deprive criminals of pots of easy money, says a new study released on Wednesday by the Fraser Institute.

If the government were to regulate and tax the marijuana production industry, the report suggests little would change, except where the money goes.

Stephen Easton, a professor of economics at Simon Fraser University, wrote the report for the Fraser Institute, a right-wing think tank. He noted that nearly a quarter of Canadians say they have smoked marijuana, and that large amounts of it are grown in Canada.

In British Columbia alone, Easton estimates, there are 17,500 grow operations.

"If we treat marijuana like any other commodity, we can tax it, regulate it, and use the resources the industry generates rather than continue a war against consumption and production that has long since been lost," Easton said.

Easton estimates the B.C. marijuana industry is worth $7 billion. Those caught are rarely charged. Those convicted rarely go to jail.

Some have been making the same argument for years. A Senate report two years ago urged the government to get involved in regulating the production and distribution of marijuana

Marc Emery, president of the B.C. Marijuana Party and head of a pot and hemp-based business empire, is another.

"The safety to the consumer and the general public would be terrific, and we'd save about $500 million in our Canadian criminal justice system from reduction of court costs, jails – oh, it would be tremendous," said Emery.

Police believe legalizing marijuana would be a big mistake. "There's no amount of justification here to legalize illicit substances such as marijuana," said Sgt. Dave Goddard of the Vancouver Police. "It does too much damage to our community."

Parliament was considering a bill that would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana but it died on the Order Paper when the election was called.

The Fraser Institute insisted later on Tuesday that it "does not take positions on issues."

"Like all authors of the Institute's studies, [Professor Stephen Easton]works independently and the views expressed by [him] therefore are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the members or trustees of the Fraser Institute," a second news release said.