U.S. Midterm Primer: What’s at stake for consumer choice?

The Consumer Choice Center doesn’t take positions on any specific political campaigns or elections, but there are at least some interesting state-level ballot proposals happening around the country that could overwhelmingly benefit consumer choice.

In the U.S. federal system, state residents are eligible to vote on certain popular initiatives and state constitutional amendments that will have a major impact on daily life for citizens and consumers.

CANNABIS

Michigan and North Dakota will both vote to legalize cannabis at the state level in separate ballot initiatives. Legalizing cannabis would be a boon to the economy and consumer choice, removing cannabis sales from the black market and allowing governments to both regulate and tax it safely and securely. That’s a huge win for consumers in those states. The same applies to medical cannabis on the ballot in Utah and Missouri. Allowing legitimate medical patients the ability to use cannabis to cure their ailments legally will help potentially thousands of consumers.

GROCERY TAXES

In Washington State and Oregon, there are separate ballot proposals that would prohibit local jurisdictions from imposing additional taxes on grocery items. That would favor all consumers, and help ensure that hard-working American families won’t be forced to pay higher prices for what they already consume, or be forced to shop across city and county lines in order to find the most affordable food. Because they’re regressive, grocery taxes end up hurting lower income houses the most. By capping local jurisdictions’ abilities to raise taxes on groceries across the board, the proposal would ensure Washington and Oregon consumers won’t be subject to discriminatory tax hikes at the local level.

If Seattle is any indication, which passed a city-wide soda tax last year, consumers would be cautious. The soda tax was intended to lower consumption of sugary beverages, but considering the city now estimates it’ll collect $6 million more in taxes than they anticipated, more people are actually buying sodas than before or the numbers are wrong. Data we have from Cook County, Philadelphia, and Mexico consistently shows that higher soda taxes push people to seek alternatives with even more sugar or to shop across state lines to get their sugary drinks. Soda tax measures are well-intentioned, but end up hurting the poor.

ENERGY AND VAPING

Similarly, California’s Prop 6 would require voter approval for all future vehicle tax and fuel fees, as well as cancel the 2017 fuel taxes enacted by the state legislature. Such a proposal ensures consumers have a voice on the fees tacked on for those who drive cars and rely on transportation.

A ballot proposal in Florida seeks to ban both offshore drilling and vaping indoors in the same proposition. The fact that these questions are coupled together is unfair to Florida’s citizens and consumers. Vaping is proven to be less harmful than smoking and shouldn’t be treated the same as tobacco.

NET NEUTRALITY AND INTERNET REGULATIONS

Not up for a vote but still very important issue are a number of states considering their own net neutrality Internat regulations. As we saw in California, state legislatures and executives are considering passing their own rules for Internet regulation. Allowing each and every state to impose their own Internet rules would burden consumers and harm innovation.

More than that, state-level Internet regulations will threaten the vast entrepreneurial and tech space that is growing across the country, and push companies to set up in jurisdictions that promise true Internet freedom rather than state-imposed regulation of content and delivery of Internet services.

FEDERAL ISSUES IN CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICTS

Along with state ballot proposals, the entire U.S. House will be up for election, as well as two-thirds of the U.S. Senate. Important issues on our radar include the future of fees and taxes imposed on the airline passengers, proposals to ban single-use plastics, self-driving car and truck regulations, national cannabis decriminalization, health care freedom, and many more.

Be sure to follow the Consumer Choice Center on social media, subscribe to our newsletter and join CCC as a member, and consider making a donation if you believe our work is important for lifestyle freedom, market access, and consumer choice.

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

Minor changes could have a major positive impact on Ontario’s cannabis plan

On Aug. 13, Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fideli announced the government’s plan for cannabis legalization. The keystone of the Progressive Conservatives’ policy is a reversal of the public retail monopoly model proposed by the former Liberal government, to instead opt for private retail provincewide. Although cannabis will be legal in October this year, storefronts won’t be available for consumers until at least April 1, 2019, after the government has gone through a public consultation period. In the meantime, Ontario cannabis consumers will only be able to order legal cannabis through an online outlet created by the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS).

Along with the private retail announcement, the government stated that municipalities would be able to “opt out” from cannabis activity, meaning that cities and towns will have the opportunity to prohibit cannabis retail outlets from being established within their municipal boundaries.

Lastly, in addition to strict age-of-purchase and impaired-driving restrictions, the PCs will enact a complete public consumption ban, similar to how alcohol is treated provincewide. This means all cannabis consumption will have to take place either in one’s home or on one’s private property.

Mr. Ford should be applauded for embracing private retail, but there are some key missteps with the plan as described. Luckily, these flaws can be easily remedied with simple policy alterations.

The move toward private retail is definitely a win for consumers, given that private retail enhances access, which helps stamp out the black market. That said, not having storefronts available on legalization day all but guarantees consumers will continue to purchase cannabis illegally until storefronts are available. Hundreds of thousands of Ontarians consume cannabis recreationally and all of them currently purchase it via illicit dealers. The thought that a government-run online outlet will be more accessible than how consumers currently purchase the product is optimistic at best, but unrealistic and destined to fail. Instead of delaying, Mr. Ford’s government should fast-track the retail permit process so that storefronts are available on Oct. 17.

Not having storefronts is just one of the major flaws with the government’s cannabis announcement. The second is the opt-out provision allowing communities to ban retail outlets within their municipal boundaries. While the desire to decentralize decision-making to local governments is understandable, all the Ford government is doing is giving cities and towns permission to recreate prohibition at the local level. This is exactly what is currently happening in California, where local retail bans are creating pockets of prohibition. Banning cannabis retail at the local level isn’t going to stop consumers from buying the product. It’s just going to prevent them from purchasing it legally, which ends up lining the pockets of organized crime.

The last significant issue with Ontario’s cannabis plan is the complete ban on public consumption. At first glance, the restriction may seem reasonable. Cannabis is an intoxicant and can be consumed in an obnoxious manner that bothers others. Despite this, banning public consumption for cannabis is heavily regressive and unfairly targets the poor. For Ontarians who rent, a growing group in today’s housing market, smoking indoors is almost always prohibited. Now, for those renters, outdoor consumption is prohibited as well. Both of those restrictions are worsened by the fact that the province currently doesn’t have any plans for indoor consumption in commercial settings. Without legal cannabis lounges, Ontarians who rent are almost entirely excluded from legal consumption, which is particularly unfortunate and cruel given that low-income neighbourhoods have historically been the ones most terrorized by the government’s faulty war on cannabis. To solve this, Mr. Ford could backpedal on the ban or simply legalize regulated consumption lounges. Mr. Ford has already shown willingness to halt the status quo with his move to suspend the progression of the Smoke Free Ontario Act. Allowing for cannabis consumption lounges would let people consume cannabis in licensed and controlled settings, where they aren’t bothering the public at large.

Even these slight changes could help ensure Ontario makes serious progress toward stamping out the black market while creating a legal cannabis market that is more equitable, just and consumer-friendly.

David Clement is the North American affairs manager at the Consumer Choice Center. Follow him on Twitter: @ClementLiberty

Original link: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/commentary/article-minor-changes-could-have-a-major-positive-impact-on-ontarios-cannabis/

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

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About Bill Wirtz

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About David Clement

David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager for the Consumer Choice Center and is based out of Oakville, Ontario. David holds a BA in Political Science and a MA in International Relations from Wilfrid Laurier University. Previously, David was the Research Assistant to the Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights. David has been regularly featured on the CBC, Global News, The Toronto Star and various other major Canadian news outlets.

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About David Clement

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

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About David Clement

David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager for the Consumer Choice Center and is based out of Oakville, Ontario. David holds a BA in Political Science and a MA in International Relations from Wilfrid Laurier University. Previously, David was the Research Assistant to the Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights. David has been regularly featured on the CBC, Global News, The Toronto Star and various other major Canadian news outlets.