Aiming higher than a high

Congratulations, Canada! You did it! You not only survived Legalization Day, you’ve also done your part to bring down the national and provincial debt!

And how did we do it, you ask? By purchasing so much recreational cannabis in a single day that it blew the roof off even the most optimistic estimates, and even resulted in product shortages in some parts of the country – including our own.

According to figures released by the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation last week, on-line sales combined with purchases at NSLC-sanctioned cannabis distribution centres for a whopping $660,000 in total revenue. That’s not even in the first week of legal marijuana usage; that’s in a single day, last Wednesday, October 17.

Now, that number is staggering on its own, but let’s break that down a little further with the reminder that Ottawa struck a deal with the provinces earlier this year to surrender 75 per cent of all cannabis-related taxation, with the remainder going to the federal government and that specific figure capped at $100 million annually.

Combine that with the fact that sanctioned pot products will be taxed at $1 a gram or 10 per cent of the purchase price – whichever is higher – and suddenly it becomes clearer as to why the only people giggling harder than a significant number of first-time weed-buyers are officials in the provincial and federal finance departments.

In Nova Scotia alone, last spring’s provincial budget projected $20.8 million in cannabis excise taxes, which was to go a long way in shoring up a projected surplus of $129.4 million for 2018-19 and continued surpluses over the following three years.

Finance minister Karen Casey trimmed down those numbers somewhat in a late-September fiscal update, noting that the delay in Canada’s legal-marijuana launch would reduce the province’s taxation take by $5.9 million. But I doubt Casey or any of her colleagues are disappointed at the prospect of $14.9 million in fresh tax revenue, and I suspect they may be laughing all the way to the bank if last week’s opening-day revenues are any indication.

So, there you have it. Nova Scotia rakes in millions to address its staggering debt load, and the federal Liberals have the chance to pay down the billions they’ve spent in three years of deficit financing. We’re all happy now, right? And legally happy, for that matter.

At the risk of harshing Canada’s collective mellow, however, I can’t deny that the $660,000 dropped on legal weed here in Nova Scotia alone – to say nothing of the millions spent nationwide on the same day – has caught me off-guard and even feels a little jarring.

I’ll approach this side of the discussion with the knowledge that everyone had different reasons for their October 17 cannabis purchases. Without a specific demographic breakdown, it’s logical to assume that the NSLC customers were a mix of previous pot users, either for recreational or medical purposes, along with people who had never tried marijuana and just wanted to satisfy their curiosity.

It’s not up to me to determine whether every dollar spent on legal weed last Wednesday was done so in a responsible manner, or whether a specific amount of purchases occurred because of the novelty of the early legalization period here in Canada. Someone with far more resources than I have at my disposal as a mere columnist can figure that out.

All I can do right now is react to that single-day figure – $660,000 – and suggest that there were probably better ways to spend that money.

Just like there were probably better ways to spend the $156.8 million in alcohol sales recently reported by the NSLC for the first quarter of its current fiscal year, between April 1 and July 1. (To help put that in perspective, that figure is 1.2 per cent lower than NSLC sales from the same period in 2017.)

Just like there were probably better ways to spend the $1.148 billion spent last year on the products and “services” offered by the Atlantic Lottery Corporation, including weekly lottery draws, scratch and break-open tickets, and video lottery terminals. Nova Scotia accounted for $365.8 million ($383 per capita) of that figure, with Newfoundland and Labrador chalking up $405.5 million in ALC sales ($769 per capita).

Yes, yes, I know. Cannabis, tobacco and alcohol taxes go back into provincial and federal coffers. ALC spends millions in advertising to convince you that it spends even more millions on roads, schools and hospitals in your community (and, to be fair, there is documented proof of ALC’s cost-sharing arrangements with the individual provincial governments).

I just wish that, instead of blowing our bucks on a legal high, we’d wisely and generously spend the money we all claim we don’t have.

Aim a little higher, everybody.