Conservatives’ war on pot seems to put them out of step with Canadian public


For two years, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have hoped to boost their re-election chances in part by convincing Canadians that Justin Trudeau will put joints into the hands of their children.

On Tuesday, Harper made his move – with an anti-drug announcement partially designed to divert attention from Nigel Wright’s upcoming testimony at the trial of suspended senator Mike Duffy, and with tough talk about the need to continue the war on pot.

“Unlike the other parties, we will not introduce misguided and reckless policies that would downplay, condone or normalize the use of illegal drugs,” Harper said.

But the Conservative leader may soon find he is on the wrong side of the issue. His approach runs counter to what Canadians themselves appear to want.

The government’s own internal polling reveals that more than two-thirds of the public favours a loosening of the marijuana laws – either full legalization or the issuing of fines, instead of a criminal record, for people who possess small amounts of pot.

Just 13.7 per cent support Harper’s apparent advocacy of the status quo.

That could put Trudeau’s Liberals in the driver’s seat, as they cautiously pitch a plan to work with the provinces to establish a regulated scheme in which government-run stores sell marijuana to adult Canadians.

David Ramos/Getty ImagesDavid Ramos/Getty Images“Unlike the other parties, we will not introduce misguided and reckless policies that would downplay, condone or normalize the use of illegal drugs,” Stephen Harper said Tuesday.

In a recent interview with the Citizen, Trudeau stressed that his plan will stem from the “best practices” learned from other jurisdictions where pot is legal. He envisioned a potential scheme in which the “equivalent of a liquor control board” sells marijuana and there are strict controls in place to ensure the drug is not sold to under-age Canadians.

Meanwhile, the NDP’s Libby Davies told the House of Commons in June that the current “unregulated market” means marijuana is now controlled by organized crime, creating “violence and stigma.”

The NDP favours establishing a commission to study “all aspects of the non-medical use of marijuana” and propose “an appropriate regulatory regime.”

Under the governing Conservatives, is gradually becoming an international outlier – with some American states such as Colorado and Washington legalizing pot and the Organization of American States (OAS) urging leaders in the western hemisphere to take a more liberalized approach to marijuana regulation.

It wasn’t supposed to be this politically difficult for the Conservatives, who pounced on Trudeau in 2013 after he began musing about .

Now, with a weak economy looming as the ballot-box question, Harper is forced to justify why marijuana is even a campaign issue.

He said Tuesday that the number of Canadians on drugs – especially young people – is still too high and that Trudeau’s plan is “dangerously misguided.” People just need to look at Colorado for evidence of how pot is now easier to obtain for kids, he said.

Harper claimed that “most Canadians” do not want the “full legalization” of marijuana.

That’s technically true, but not the whole story.

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Last year, an Ipsos Reid poll conducted for the Justice department produced some notable results:

– 37.3 per cent of Canadians said marijuana should be legalized;

– 33.4 per cent said possession of small amounts of marijuana should be decriminalized with a fine;

– 13.7 per cent said marijuana laws should stay the same;

– 12 per cent said marijuana penalties should be increased.

– 52.6 per cent believed marijuana use would “stay about the same” if legalized, while 38.4 per cent said it would increase.

As recently as this spring, the Conservatives said they were still considering a 2013 proposal by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to change the drug laws so that police officers would have the option of issuing a ticket for simple possession of cannabis (30 grams or less of marijuana or one gram or less of cannabis resin) in cases where a criminal charge “would not be in the public interest.”

However, the government never introduced such a bill in the last Parliament.

On Tuesday, the Conservatives did not provide an answer by press time on whether they are still considering the proposal.

Ottawa Citizen

About Mark Kennedy, Postmedia News