New Canadian Prime Minster Plans to Legalize Marijuana

Last night, Canada voted in Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in a general election - a move that will have outstanding implications for drug policy reform in the country.

The election puts an end to Conservative Party Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s nine-year rule, which was marked by a repressive approach to drugs, including a commitment to rolling out mandatory minimum sentences, pushback to effective supervised injection sites that reduce the harms of drug use, and strong opposition to marijuana reform. In contrast, the Liberal Party has promised to legalize and regulate marijuana and Trudeau has expressed support for harm reduction and the expansion of supervised injection sites across the country.

If Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party follow through with their promise to legalize and regulate marijuana, Canada will become the second country in the world to have legalized all aspects of the marijuana market – including production, sale and consumption – following Uruguay’s historic move to do so in 2013. In the United States, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana, with more states set to vote on regulated marijuana in 2015 and 2016 elections.

The Liberal Party has stated that “[t]he Liberal solution is clear: If we pass smart laws that tax and strictly regulate marijuana, we can better protect our kids, while preventing millions of dollars from going into the pockets of criminal organizations and street gangs.”

It promises to remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code and to design a new system of strict marijuana sales and distribution.

In 2003, Vancouver opened Insite, the first and only supervised injection facility in North America. In its over 10 years of operation, Insite has helped reduce illicit drug use and improve public health: fewer people are injecting drugs; more are accessing addiction treatment; and HIV transmission related to injection drug use has plummeted. Justin Trudeau has previously expressed support for expanding cutting-edge harm reduction services and supervised injection facilities across the country.

In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly will hold a special session on drugs (UNGASS) in order to conduct a comprehensive review of the successes and failures of international drug control policy. Whereas the previous UNGASS in 1998 was dominated by rhetorical calls for a “drug-free world” and concluded with unrealistic goals regarding illicit drug production, the forthcoming UNGASS will depart from this rhetoric, especially given the numerous drug policy reform initiatives that have been approved around the world.

The election of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party will signify a 180-degree turn in Canada’s drug policies, both domestically and internationally. This is big news for drug policy reformers in Canada, North America, and across the world.

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