Pubdate: Thu, 13 Apr 2017
Source: Cape Breton Post (CN NS)
Copyright: 2017 Cape Breton Post
Author: Chantal Hebert
Page: A8


Legislation to be tabled today in the House of Commons will pave the
way to the legal selling of marijuana across the country by the summer
of next year

If he wants to avoid spending the 2019 campaign walking on the shards
of yet another broken signature promise, Justin Trudeau has little
choice but to make good on his promise to legalize marijuana in time
for the next election.

Of the many commitments the prime minister made on the way to his
majority victory some were more emblematic than others. The Liberal
embrace of deficit spending, the vow to change the voting system in
time for 2019 and the legalization of marijuana fall into that category.

On the issue of not letting a deficit stand in his way of his policy
ambitions one could argue that Trudeau has delivered in spades. Or
alternatively that he broke his word the moment he presented the
country with a deficit three times larger than previously advertised,
with no solid timeline to return to budget balance.

Trudeau has turned his back on the search for an alternative to the
first-past-the-post voting system.

With electronic and compulsory voting also off the table, there is
little left of the Liberal promise to make sweeping changes to the way
Canadians elect their government.

That leaves the legalization of marijuana - a commitment that
strategists believe went a long way to attract a cohort of first-time
voters to a) cast a ballot and b) to support the Liberals in 2015.

If only to counter the perception that Trudeau can't be counted on to
keep his word, delivering on the marijuana promise before Canada next
goes to the polls has become non-negotiable.

But it will not be a cakewalk. The prime minister's promise has always
been more popular than his own party. That is still the case as the
government readies to introduce its marijuana bill this week. But
polls suggest that as Canadians hear more details about the plan more
of them may be having second thoughts. Support for the measure was
always high, but it may also always have been soft.

A Nanos poll published last August pegged support for the policy at an
overwhelming 70 per cent. That score was in line with election polls
on the same issue. But a RPG Research Group survey done just as the
government was signalling the imminent introduction of its marijuana
bill last month found that the pro-legalization cohort had shrunk to
51 per cent.

It could be that the reality that Canada is going further than just
removing the consumption of cannabis from the Criminal

Code is sinking in. In the last campaign, there was plenty of
anecdotal evidence that the distinction between decriminalizing and
legalizing marijuana was not always uppermost in the minds of many

Over the past few months the debate has shifted from pure politics and
party branding to public health concerns. It could be that the
arguments pertaining to the risks of making marijuana widely available
on the legal market are having an impact.

And then there is the body language of the provincial

It is they that will have to do the heavy lifting and create an
infrastructure to distribute and sell cannabis once the federal bill
is passed. They are warily waiting to see the fine print of the

Take Quebec. It has long been ahead of the provincial curve on a host
of sensitive progressive issues.

Over the past decades the National Assembly pushed the envelope on
abortion rights, same-sex marriage and more recently medically
assisted death.

But that benevolent attitude will not necessarily extend to marijuana.
Last month, Quebec's Health Minister Gaetan Barrette complained that
the federal government was handing the provinces a public health hot

The Coalition Avenir Quebec has serious reservations about the federal
plan. On this, there will not be a unanimous motion of the national
assembly. In the RPG poll, support for Trudeau's marijuana plan in his
home province was at the very low end at 37 per cent.

Among the larger provinces, Ontario has been the most enthusiastic
about the federal intention. In light of the unpopularity of Kathleen
Wynne's Liberal government, that may be more a curse than a blessing.

If all goes according to the federal plan, the legislation that is to
be tabled on Thursday in the House of Commons will pave the way to the
legal selling of marijuana across the country by the summer of next
year. What will happen between now and then is a real national
conversation about Canada's approach to cannabis.
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