Pubdate: Mon, 05 Aug 2013
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2013 The Toronto Star
Referenced: Senate Committee recommends legalization of cannabis:


Justin Trudeau is taking a bold step by coming out in favour of the 
legalization of marijuana. But voters need to hear more than some 
impromptu remarks at a campaign-style rally when it comes to such a 
controversial issue. If the Liberal leader wants to be taken 
seriously as a prime minister in waiting he's going to have to spell 
out how he sees legalization actually working - and answer the many 
legitimate concerns about it.

On the substance of the issue, Trudeau has facts and logic on his 
side. Experts as far back as the Le Dain Commission four decades ago 
have rightly concluded that regulating and taxing cannabis makes more 
sense than spending tens of millions to arrest, fine and occasionally 
jail recreational users. The Senate, hardly a nest of potheads, came 
to the same conclusion in a thoughtful committee report 11 years ago. 
It said the current approach amounts to "throwing taxpayers' money 
down the drain on a crusade that is not warranted by the danger posed 
by the substance."

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the Harper government has ignored all 
this and stepped up its "war on drugs" - especially cannabis. Since 
it took office in 2006, arrests for marijuana possession have jumped 
by some 40 per cent and harsher mandatory penalties have been imposed 
for growing as few as six plants.

Public opinion, meanwhile, has been quietly moving in the other 
direction. Polls in both Canada and the United States show a narrow 
majority now favour legalization. Nineteen U.S. states have legalized 
medical marijuana, and voters in Washington state and Colorado last 
year endorsed fully legalizing pot. The Americans, ironically, are 
inching ahead of us on the issue.

Into this new context comes Justin Trudeau, who can read the polls as 
well as anyone and clearly senses a fundamental change in the wind. 
At a recent rally in Kelowna, B.C., he spotted a "legalize pot" sign 
and seized the opportunity to declare that his thinking has 
"evolved." While he used to support decriminalizing marijuana 
(reducing penalties to the level of a traffic ticket), he now backs 
full legalization. Regulating and taxing cannabis, he said, would cut 
criminals out of the industry, boost government revenues, and even 
help to keep it out of the hands of young people.

Politically, this may well be a smart move. Young people, in 
particular, see prohibition of marijuana as ridiculous. They voted in 
far greater numbers when the issue was on the ballot in the U.S., and 
might be motivated to come to the polls for a Canadian leader willing 
to get out in front on this issue. At last that's the bet the Liberal 
leader is making.

So give Trudeau high marks for being forthright and forward-looking. 
But it's not enough for a major party leader simply to toss out some 
well-turned phrases on an issue as divisive and complicated as this. 
Academics (and even newspaper editorial boards) might get by with 
just being right on the facts, but Trudeau has to bring along the 
many Canadians with serious doubts about legalization.

On this, more than on most issues, the devil will be in the details. 
How, exactly, would a Trudeau Liberal government regulate the 
production and sale of cannabis? Who would have the right to grow and 
market it? Should tobacco companies be allowed to get into the 
business? Would the age limit for buying it be the same as for 
alcohol and tobacco?

Where would it be sold? Alongside cigarettes at the corner store? At 
the liquor board, with the wine and booze? Through special outlets? 
What about warnings from some health experts that marijuana is more 
dangerous than once thought?

How would legalization affect Canada's relations with the U.S.? The 
Chretien government brought in a bill to decriminalize marijuana a 
decade ago, but backed off in the face of furious reaction from 
Washington. Are we willing to put up with even more onerous border 
checks if Canada is seen south of the border as an Amsterdam-like 
haven for potheads? Or has opinion in the U.S. fundamentally shifted?

This isn't just plumbing. Polls may show support for legalization 
now, but we suspect that could well be a mile wide and an inch deep. 
How long will it hold up once Conservatives and other critics start 
spooking parents with warnings that Trudeau wants to put pot in every 
corner store? How would that go down in Ontario, where we can't even 
get our heads around selling a six-pack in the grocery store?

The predictable scare-mongering has already begun. It took just days 
for the Conservative party to ask supporters for donations to stop 
"Justin Trudeau's plan to bring more illegal drugs into our 
communities." Now it's up to the Liberal leader to make a convincing 
case for a more rational and less wasteful approach.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom