Drugs

After Upset Election, Canada's New Leader Wants to Legalize Marijuana

A 180 degree turnaround from the previous right-wing govt, and a seismic shift for North America.

Led by Justin Trudeau, Canada's Liberal Party swept to an impressive victory in Monday's elections.

The party has won enough seats to form a majority government by itself. The Liberals won 184 seats in the lower house of parliament. . They only need 170 seats to form a majority in the 338-seat lower chamber.

The election brings an end to nine years of Conservative rule, which, from a drug policy perspective, was absolutely regressive and reactionary. The Tories not only opposed marijuana legalization; they were committed to rolling out mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses, including pot cultivation, and they fought bitterly (and unsuccessfully) to shut down Vancouver's supervised injection site for hard-core drug users. The Tories rejected harm reduction in favor of failed 20th Century drug policies. 

The Liberal platform included, among other things, marijuana legalization:

"We will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana," the platform states. Marijuana prohibition doesn't prevent youth use, causes socially disruptive and expensive arrests, and supports organized crime, the statement adds. "We will remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code, and create new, stronger laws to punish more severely those who provide it to minors, those who operate a motor vehicle while under its influence, and those who sell it outside of the new regulatory framework."

But don't expect it to happen overnight. The Liberals said they would create a task force with input from experts in public health, substance use, and law enforcement to design a new system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales. Once the task force has done its work, a bill will have to be crafted and then passed in Ottawa.

While marijuana was not the issue in the campaign, it was an issue. The Conservatives attempted drug war-style scare ads, and outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper said marijuana was "infinitely worse than tobacco."

But the Tories' anti-pot stance didn't fare too well in a country that is ready to leave marijuana prohibition behind. In a CBC Vote Compass poll last month, 56% of respondents wanted legalization, another 30% wanted decriminalization, and only 14% wanted the prohibitionist status quo.

Now, the voters should be about to get their wish.

Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority reacted from south of the border:

"While US states led the way by becoming the first places in the world to legalize and regulate marijuana in 2012, it looks like Canada could soon leapfrog ahead of us and become the first country in North America to legalize cannabis nationwide," he said. "If that happens, it’s not only good news for Canadians who will be able to purchase marijuana from legal and regulated storefronts instead of being treated like criminals. It’s also likely to give reform efforts in the US a bit of a boost — not that we really needed it, but a little friendly competition is always a good motivator. "

And so did Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance:

“Last night’s victory for Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party is the single biggest news in global drug policy reform this year,” said Nadelmann.  “It promises a 180 degree turn in Canada’s national drug policy both domestically and internationally, and will hopefully inject new energy and direction into planning for the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs six months from now.”

Phillip Smith is editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter and author of the Drug War Chronicle.

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