Last week the world watched as Uruguay became the first nation to officially re-legalize marijuana in nearly eight decades. Not to be outdone, our neighbors to the north in Canada may be heading in the same direction, at least if Justin Trudeau, the leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, has anything to say about it.
On July 23rd, while attending a rally in British Columbia, the head of one of Canada’s three major political parties spotted a supporter carrying a sign in favor of decriminalizing weed, and he stated, “I’m actually not in favor of decriminalizing cannabis – I’m in favor of legalizing it.”
Trudeau went on to say, “Tax and regulate. It’s one of the only ways to keep it out of the hands of our kids because the current war on drugs… isn’t working.”
When pressed on the issue days later, Trudeau stiffened on his position, saying that he has “evolved” in his thinking, thanks to “a lot of listening, a lot of reading, and a lot of paying attention to the very serious studies that have come out”. While he does not go so far as to say that smoking weed is good for you, he rightfully acknowledges that weed is “not worse for you than cigarettes or alcohol”.
Although nationwide polling shows that 57% of Canadians agree with Trudeau and favor legalization of marijuana, the Canadian Prime Minister and his ruling Conservative Party have stifled all decriminalization efforts to date, and have only served to increase penalties and jail time for drug offenders.
The Liberal Party has been out of power since 2006, but may have an ally in this potentially poll-busting pot policy reform with Canada’s third political party, the New Democrats, who have endorsed decriminalization in the past.
This is not a new issue for Canada. 40 years ago, the LeDain Commission concluded that taxing and regulating cannabis is far more beneficial than policing, arresting, and jailing harmless recreational users. Over a decade ago, the Canadian Senate produced its own report on the subject, concluding that the current approach to pot in Canada was the equivalent of “throwing taxpayers’ money down the drain on a crusade that is not warranted by the danger posed by the substance.”
Despite the evidence and public support in favor of marijuana legalization, since taking office, the Conservative Party has overseen a 41% hike in marijuana-related arrests. Activist Dana Larsen reports that sometime this year, if it hasn’t happened already, the one millionth Canadian will be arrested for marijuana possession. He goes on to say that the war on drugs in Canada is really just a war on weed, and more specifically, weed smokers.
On one hand, you have legalization advocacy groups in Canada providing studies performed by citizen-coalitions of public health officials, former politicians, and academics, showing potential budget balancing savings in lower law enforcement costs and increased tax revenues.
On the other, you have those opposed to all things cannabis who have re-re-re-launched their jalopy of an argument, warning that weed causes “wheezing and hacking”, that it leads to mental illness like schizophrenia, and that if pot is legalized, “we are going to have the same problems as the widespread use of cigarettes and a lot of health-related problems that are going to cost us a lot of money in the health-care system that is already overburdened.”
If that fact-free diatribe didn’t scare you off the reefer, Canadian Conservative member of the House of Commons, Guy Lauzon says, “Marijuana is illegal in Canada because of the harm it does to individuals and society as a whole. Profits used by organized crime groups selling marijuana are commonly used to traffic illicit drugs, firearms, and humans.”
Canada is ripe for a cannabis revolution, but critics and advocates alike all agree that fist pumping for the crowd at a rally, and actually sitting down with all parties and crafting realistic legislation for cannabis reform are two very different things.
How will the government regulate the production and sales? Who is allowed to grow it? How will it be advertised? Will it be treated like cigarettes, or alcohol, or both, or neither? Where will people buy it? How will it be taxed? What will the new penalties be? Basically, what the Canadian people want to know is, how will it work?
All legitimate questions, and questions that should make Canadian cannabis advocates optimistic because for the first time in their living memories, they have a leader of a major political party willing to ask them as well.
Liberals and Conservatives.
Facts versus fears.
A frustratingly slow generational shift in public perception of pot.
Come to think of it, Canada might be following the U.S., instead of Uruguay.