The National Post editorial board has repeatedly expressed support for the legalization of marijuana.
Pot legalization: an endless saga
Full Comment Letters to the Editor Gary Clement Columnists
National Post · Jan. 17, 2012 | Last Updated: Jan. 17, 2012 5:16 AM ET
The single concrete policy proposal to emerge from the weekend Liberal convention - a resolution urging the legalization of marijuana - is being touted as "controversial." But it shouldn't be. For the last quarter century, a majority of Canadians have supported the decriminalization of simple marijuana possession. Since then, thousands of AIDS patients and other sick Canadians have procured government certificates that permit them to use marijuana for pain and nausea relief. Over the last decade, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, the Association of Police Chiefs and the Canadian Bar Association have all come out in favour of decriminalization. A committee of the Canadian Senate even went one step further, proposing outright marijuana legalization.
Indeed, as Lorne Gunter writes on these pages, the push for marijuana reform goes back even further - to the age of disco: The subject was a hot topic at the Liberal convention of 1978. Yet in the 33 years since, nothing much has happened on this file.
If so many smart, well-informed Canadians have signed on to marijuana reform, why do thousands of Canadians still go to jail every year for possessing a substance that is less dangerous than tobacco or alcohol, and which is used regularly by one in six Canadians? (Bob Rae himself has confessed to having used marijuana in the past - a fact that shocked absolutely no one; nor should it.)
The Conservative government's opposition to marijuana reform is easy to explain: From its early days, Stephen Harper's party has dedicated itself to a doctrinaire "tough on crime" agenda. In 2006, when asked whether the Tories would do anything to advance the issue of pot decriminalization, thenjustice minister Vic Toews responded: "It is a very short answer, and the answer is no."
That's a retrograde attitude. But at least the Tories are forthright about their position on the issue. By contrast, the Liberals repeatedly floated the idea of marijuana reform from 2003 to 2005, and even intro-duced legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot, only to let the issue die. While Paul Martin indicated that he supported the cause of reform in principle, he reportedly was concerned about the reaction from the United States, where the federal government remains wedded to the war-on-drugs model that Mr. Rae (rightly) denounced as a failure this past weekend. In her capacity as health minister, and then public safety minister under Mr. Martin, Anne McLellan was particularly hawkish in her opposition to marijuana reform - for similar U.S.-centric reasons.
The National Post editorial board has repeatedly expressed support for the legalization of marijuana. But we realize that it likely will never happen while Mr. Harper remains Canada's prime minister. Even if the Liberals or NDP win power, the next prime minister will still have to wrestle with the same concerns that blocked decriminalization under the Liberals a decade ago.
And it must be conceded that those concerns weren't trivial: If marijuana is decriminalized in Canada, our country will effectively become America's northern ganja grow-op. No matter how much we may crow about Canadian sovereignty, it is a fact that the United States has the power of life and death over cross-border trade. No one wants to wait four hours at U.S. customs because border agents are checking every car trunk and suitcase for legal Canadian weed.
The best way to pursue drug reform is in concert with the United States and Mexico (where the drug war claims roughly 10,000 lives per year). While there is currently little appetite for drug reform in Washington, the same is not true for state governments: Since 1996, 16 U.S. states have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana - including six that border Canada. Drug reform will not happen overnight in the United States. But a Liberal government would at least have partners for dialogue.