Re-printed with no permission from Hill Times, March 4, 2013.
OTTAWA—Recently, the leadership candidates for the Liberal Party of Canada have promised varying versions of cannabis “legalization” if their party returns to power.
Some are calling the party’s new position on cannabis law reform “bold.” I would agree, if this were 1973. True, hearing a national party actually talk about legalization is a step in the right direction, but it is one small step where 10 large steps are needed.
As someone who relies heavily on cannabis to manage my symptoms, and as a 24/7 caregiver to a sick wife who needs it even more, I want to believe them. I really, really do. But I find myself unable to.
Like Charlie Brown continually falling for Lucy’s football ruse, the media and much of the public seem to be falling for it, but I’m not.
Why so incredulous, you ask? Well, maybe it is the fact that I am 43 years old and have been hearing the Liberals promise cannabis-law reform every few years since the 1972 Le Dain Commission, only to watch them increase penalties when they are actually in power. People are quick to forget that the contracts for all these new jails were tendered under the Paul Martin administration. The Liberals knew back in the 1990s that the flourishing American Inmate-Manufacturing Industry was looking to move North, and they did what they could to help.
Or maybe it is the fact that they used our tax dollars, and every trick they could think of, to keep people from attaining the legal right to use medical cannabis at the turn of this century. Court battles were hard enough, but to hear Liberals like Anne McLellan talk nonsense in the press week after week was excruciating.
Maybe it is the fact that, after losing this battle, they dragged their heels, balked at court rulings, ignored the Charter, and implemented Health Canada regulations that they knew beforehand were onerous and likely to be challenged (expensively) in court.
Perhaps it is the fact that some Liberal MPs now tout Health Canada’s medical marijuana program as something “that was started under a Liberal administration,” even though they were forced—kicking and screaming—by the courts to implement it, and worked very hard to keep it from people as long as they could, they now try to take tacit credit for it. They also did as much as they could, while in power, to keep the program dysfunctional.
Or it could be the fact that when they did come up with an ironically-named “decriminalization” legislation, Liberal Dan McTeague took the bill down to the U.S. to run it past their government before it was even tabled in the House of Commons. The bill itself, as you may recall, would have replaced a criminal record with fines, a system often called “net-widening,” where far more people get caught, but get softer penalties.
Or maybe I see the fact that a Tory-stacked Senate will allow almost nothing that a Liberal government proposes to get through. I doubt that a Liberal government is going to waste time, effort, and the public’s goodwill fighting the Senate on pot-law reform, when other far less contentious bills have a better chance of getting passed.
Politically, I don’t think this is a hill the Liberals are prepared to even fight for, let alone die on. The argument can be rationally made that there are many issues that are more pressing that legalizing cannabis, but the billions saved and generated annually simply by legalizing cannabis would do much to help finance those issues.
Or it might be the fact that the party still considers cannabis a “drug,” the use of which—they feel—needs to be greatly reduced. They largely ignore the fact that countries like Israel and Spain are years ahead of us on cannabis-therapeutic scientific research, and still maintain a Reagan-era attitude that pot is bad and abstinence is best. Couple that with Justin Trudeau’s unscientific worries about cannabis’ mythical potency and “links” to mental illness, and his use of anachronistic terms like “pusher” (as he did in a recent phone interview with the Cornwall Free News), and what I see is a Liberal Party that is still meandering behind the parade on a crucial issue. And, as usual, they refer to this behind-the-pack position as “leadership.”
Today, we are presented with a collection of new leadership candidates, who, let’s face it, are all trying to beat Trudeau. Some of them are talking “tax and regulate,” but they fail to offer any really coherent platform as to how that would work out. Some are talking about “liquor store” models and arbitrary limits on amounts that people can possess, but I think they are empty promises. I don’t think it matters who the next leader is, as far as cannabis goes, because the party, once in power, will likely shelve this “legalization” talk on the first day. They’ll gladly pander to “youth” and sick people to get themselves elected, but once in power, it is the lobbyists who will have their ear.
So, what can we expect from the Liberals? I think we can expect more flowery promises (pun intended) to legalize pot, right through the leadership race and right up to election night, followed by years of continued promises to “get around to it” as soon as other, “more pressing” issues are settled first. The mandatory minimum sentences for growing and “trafficking” that were implemented in November by the Harperistas will remain in place, of course. You can count on that.
In the meantime, they will wait for a court ruling to legalize pot for them (see abortion, same-sex-marriage, and medical cannabis for details), then legislate after the fact. Then they will take credit for “legalizing” pot.