Cannabis legalization proponents in Canada are rejoicing in the wake of Monday’s elections that gave the Liberal Party a clear majority and positioned its leader Justin Trudeau to become prime minister.
The son of Canada’s revered former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, Justin openly advocates legalization. He even admitted to Huffington Post in 2013 that he had toked since becoming an MP representing Montreal in 2008. He also revealed that his late brother, Michel Trudeau, was facing cannabis possession charges before his death in an avalanche in 1998 and that the experience influenced his position.
In vivid contrast, the Conservative Party’s incumbent Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been leading a crackdown on Canada’s medical marijuana program, and even recently called cannabis “infinitely worse” than tobacco. But how easy will it be for Trudeau to follow through on his promise to legalize?
Vancouver’s News 1130 noted Trudeau’s audacious pledge at a September campaign stop in British Columbia.
“The Liberal Party is committed to legalizing and regulating marijuana,” he said. “We are going to get started on that right away.”
But when pressed by reporters as to what “right away” means, he hedged, “We don’t yet know exactly what rate we’re going to be taxing it, how we’re going to control it, or whether it will happen in the first months, within the first year, or whether it’s going to take a year or two to kick in.”
Former British Columbia premier Mike Harcourt (who is now chairman of the True Leaf Medicine medical marijuana company, according to the Vancouver Sun) told News 1130 that he is hopeful the change of government will bring in an “intelligent policy” on cannabis, but it might take some time.
“I think the legalization of the recreational part, dealing with dispensaries, and dealing with provinces and all of that will require an act or parliament,” Harcourt said. “So, it will probably have to wait until next spring or summer, if it is a high priority for the government.”
According to a breakdown provided by Maclean’s, the Conservatives have the harshest position on cannabis by far.
Harper beefed up marijuana laws and imposed mandatory minimum sentences as part of the sweeping Safe Streets and Communities Act.
“The party opposes any attempt to decriminalize or legalize pot, and openly mocks Liberal calls for legalization in regularly released attack ads,” Maclean’s wrote.
The New Democratic Party (NDP), which positions itself to the left of the Liberals, actually takes a more conservative position on cannabis, calling for decriminalization rather than legalization.
The Liberal platform states: “We will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana” (meaning restrictions on youth access).
When Canada’s previous Parliament dissolved in August, the Conservatives held a 159-seat majority, the NDP held 95 seats as the official opposition and the Liberals held just 36; smaller parties held another six seats in the lower House of Commons. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation now projects the new Parliament will have 184 Liberal seats, 99 Conservative seats and 44 NDP seats, with 10 for the Bloc Québécois (pro-decrim) and one for the Green Party (pro-legalization).