By Phillip Smith
Canada's opposition Liberal Party head Justin Trudeau has called for the legalization of marijuana, putting himself and his party on a collision course with the ruling Conservatives ahead of 2015 elections. Trudeau's stand also differentiates the Liberals from the New Democratic Party (NDP), which has been the progressive party on drug reform, but which only calls for decriminalization.
Canadian Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau (wikimedia.org)
The Liberals adopted marijuana legalization as a platform plank in January 2012, but Trudeau had previously lagged behind the party, calling only for decriminalization.
Trudeau revived drug policy as an issue when, at a Kelowna, British Columbia, event Sunday, he spotted someone in the crowd holding a sign calling for decriminalization.
"I'll take that as a question," he volunteered. "I'm actually not in favor of decriminalizing cannabis, I'm in favour of legalizing it, tax and regulate," he said to applause. "It's one of the only ways to keep it out of the hands of our kids, because the current war on drugs, the current model, is not working."
In Vancouver on Thursday, Trudeau elaborated.
"Listen, marijuana is not a health food supplement, it's not great for you," he told reporters, but added that it was no worse for people than cigarettes or alcohol and he was now willing to go further than just decriminalization. "I have evolved in my own thinking," Trudeau said. "I was more hesitant to even decriminalize not so much as five years ago. But I did a lot of listening, a lot of reading, and a lot of paying attention to the very serious studies that have come out and I realize that going the road of legalization is actually a responsible thing to look at and to do."
The stand places the Liberal Party on a collision course on the road to the 2015 elections with the Conservative government, which is solidly in favour of the status quo, and the NDP, which would only go as far as decriminalizing the possession of small quantities of marijuana.
When Liberals controlled the national government at the beginning of this century, they moved to reform the marijuana laws. But the Liberals only favored a quasi-decriminalization, and they ended up not even being able to move that forward.
The Conservatives have held national power since 2006 and have ratcheted up penalties for some marijuana and other drug offenses. Responding to Trudeau's comments this week, the party said it was staying the prohibitionist course.
"These drugs are illegal because of the harmful effect they have on users and on society, including violent crime. Our government has no interest in seeing any of these drugs legalized or made more easily available to youth," the prime minister's office said in a statement.
The Conservatives' position on marijuana puts them out of step with most Canadians on the issue. An Angus-Reid poll last fall showed Canadian support for legalization at 57%, and other surveys have polled even higher.