Pubdate: Wed, 08 Jan 2014
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2014 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Tim Harper


Liberals Will Be Watching How Pot Legalization Plays Out

When Justin Trudeau dove into the legalized marijuana debate last 
summer, it initially looked like an unnecessarily polarizing position 
that too easily allowed his opponents to depict him as a lightweight 
unable to grapple with more pressing issues.

The Liberal leader still surely doesn't want to get freighted down by 
his pot ponderings, and it is never going to become the centrepiece 
of a party platform.

But there is a case to be made that it will be an issue that can move 
votes in 2015.

Whether Trudeau was being shrewd or was again kissed by serendipity, 
there is now every reason to believe that marijuana legalization is 
moving up the political radar and he has much riding on a number of 
developments south of the border.

He suddenly has a lot at stake in Colorado, but also in Washington 
state, New York state and a growing number of U.S. jurisdictions that 
appear to be quickly lining up behind more liberal marijuana laws.

Colorado, which began its legalized marijuana market on New Year's 
Day, is a key laboratory that Liberals will be watching.

If the state can distribute recreational marijuana in a way that 
takes pressure off police, grows state revenues, does not lead to 
more underage use or impaired driving charges, it will provide a 
blueprint for any other jurisdiction contemplating the same.

Legislators elsewhere will notice and it will be on the continental 
radar just as Canadians prepare to vote in 2015.

It will force Stephen Harper and his Conservatives away from their 
own brand of reefer madness, manifested in their compulsive mentions 
of Trudeau's pot gambit at every opportunity.

Of course, if the Colorado experiment devolves into chaos or f aces 
growing opposition and is, in any way, deemed a failed initiative, 
Trudeau may rue the day he styled himself as the prince of pot among 
federal leaders.

With Colorado in business and Washington coming on board later this 
year, New York is in the spotlight this week.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a potential presidential aspirant, is expected 
to move by executive order Wednesday, bypassing the legislature and 
recalcitrant Republicans, to make medical marijuana available in a 
state which has one of the most punitive marijuana laws on the books.

He follows his neighbour, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a 
Republican who figures in all discussions of that party's next 
presidential nominee.

New York will become the 21st state, along with the District of 
Columbia, to allow the use of regulated medical marijuana, something 
that has been legal in Canada since the former Liberal government 
took the step in 2001.

There are more than 39,000 registered users in Canada and late last 
year, the federal government tossed the medical marijuana market to 
the private sector, creating what is estimated to be a $1.3-billion 
market within the next decade.

It is far too early to pass judgment on the Colorado plan and The 
Financial Times Wednesday reported demand far exceeds supply in the 
state, pushing the price of recreational pot to $400 per ounce.

State residents can buy an ounce at a time, with visitors restricted 
to a quarter-ounce.

However, sales topped $1 million on Day 1 and the state has projected 
$70 million in new tax revenue for this year.

It would be hard to imagine that Harper and his law-and-order 
Conservatives could ever move toward legalization after railing 
against Trudeau and charging that he was advocating marijuana use for minors.

In last November's byelections in Manitoba, Conservatives told voters 
"Justin Trudeau's plan to legalize marijuana will make it more 
accessible to our kids and encourage recreational drug use."

But strip back the politics and even the Conservatives are edging 
toward more liberal pot laws.

Both Harper and his justice minister, Peter MacKay, have hinted they 
are warming to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police view that 
fines for possession of small amounts of marijuana are better than 
criminal charges which tie up resources and manpower in a lengthy 
legal process.

There are conservatives who must know that a futile police war on 
cannabis use, including a mandatory six-month minimum sentence for 
growing as few as six cannabis plants, is increasingly out of step with logic.

At very least, there are Conservatives who can look beyond the 
horizon and see that this day-today combat over marijuana use is no 
longer effective or economically efficient - or most importantly 
political saleable, even if it's Trudeau who is seen as ahead of the curve.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom