Justin Trudeau and the dangers of legalizing weed

What was once a popular promise from a new leader has became a test for Trudeau’s brand and a headache for government


 
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a town hall with high school students in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 3, 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a town hall with high school students in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 3, 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

There’s a paradox in the way Justin Trudeau has positioned himself on marijuana. From the time he first came out in favour of legalizing pot—during a summer swing through British Columbia as the Liberals’ new leader in 2013—Trudeau has framed this seemingly hip policy in surprisingly square terms.

More than anything, he’s stressed making it harder for teenagers to buy it. In what has since become a familiar Liberal refrain, he lamented in B.C. that halcyon summer, “In many cases, it’s more difficult for young people to get their hands on cigarettes than it is to get their hands on weed.”

In that vein, his government’s officials set up this week’s unveiling of long-awaited marijuana legislation by emphasizing get-tough, rather than get-with-it, elements. They talk of stiff penalties for selling to kids, policies to prevent any post-legalization spike in driving while stoned, and funding for a public-education campaign on the dangers of marijuana.

So stern is their tone, in fact, that it’s easy to forget this policy was successfully hatched inside the Liberal party by its exuberant youth wing, back in 2012, and Trudeau’s embrace of it was heralded as a splashy sign of his unbuttoned, youth-courting style—the furthest thing from a law-and-order push.

But pollster David Coletto, of the Ottawa firm Abacus Data, says his research suggests Trudeau’s marijuana policy might not be so obviously potent with youth as is often assumed. A poll Abacus did last year for the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations found that only about 20 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 24 listed legalizing marijuana as one of their top five policy priorities.

That’s far below the 63 per cent who picked making college and university more accessible and affordable, say, or the 54 per cent who put improving Canada’s health care system in their top five. Still, Coletto says marijuana has potentially more symbolic weight than those numbers suggest. Even if young adults rank affording school and getting decent health care as more vital than legally buying weed, failure to deliver on this marquee promise would, he says, “signify you’re not maybe who you said you were.”

And Trudeau looks far more vulnerable to being tagged as insincere after he broke his campaign promise to change the way Canadians elect MPs. Another pollster, Frank Graves of EKOS Research, sees marijuana legalization squarely in that light. “It is an important file and one where they can check off a clear and bold initiative as done,” Graves says. “Something that may be timely in light of the lack of apparent progress on the electoral-reform front.”

While keeping his promise, though, Trudeau must proceed cautiously. Graves sees “lots of concerns about how young people will be protected, where [marijuana] would be available, where the revenues would go and whether it would be in my neighborhood.”

So Trudeau aims to remind voters—especially younger voters—that he’s actually keeping at least this memorable 2015 campaign pledge. At the same time, his unwavering focus on regulatory restrictions seems designed to reassure all those Canadians who are still uneasy about legal weed. Finding the right balance will, of course, be tricky.

Some marijuana enthusiasts say regulations that are too constraining will frustrate the underlying aim of the law: to eliminate the illicit pot scene by creating a profitable legal market. Abi Roach, founder of a group called the Cannabis Friendly Business Association, warns that if the government allows only plain packaging and no advertising, for example, illegal sellers will continue to thrive through better marketing. She fears rules are coming down that will amount to “pushing cannabis into Prohibition 2.0.”

The report of the government’s own Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation said that online consultations found wide support for making regulations around marijuana much like those already in place around alcohol, including what’s allowed in terms of marketing and promotion.

However, the task force sided with health experts and police who tended to favour the far more stringent tobacco model. It cited the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, for instance, which calls for a complete ban on marketing pot, and plain packaging that displays only product information and health warnings.

Assuming Trudeau leans in that direction, as expected, the paradox of his pot policy will become even more obvious in the days to come. He’ll have put his stamp on a landmark liberalization of drug policy—and yet be pilloried by the pro-pot lobby for not loosening up nearly enough. That might look like confusion about his brand, or like classic Liberal straddling of the centre.

No matter which way you see it, this issue that has been so closely wrapped up with Trudeau’s persona is about to become shared political property. His government can only go so far, under federal jurisdiction, in legalizing and regulating marijuana. The next raft of tough decisions—including settling the crucial question of who gets to sell marijuana—will fall to the provinces.

If Trudeau is deemed, in the end, to have pulled off his balancing act over pot, watch for some worried premiers to try to copy the trick in the months ahead.


 

Justin Trudeau and the dangers of legalizing weed

  1. I don’t mind legal pot, but if your going to try and keep it out of the hands of children, the government should also try and keep it out of the mouths of baby’s by putting warning labels on it, telling pregnant women who are carrying child, or mothers who are breast feeding the dangers associated with the use of weed, just like they do with alcohol.

  2. Everything’s relative:
    Alcohol kills and maims millions by traffic accidents and liver damage. Tobacco kills millions.
    There are no documented cases of cannabis killing anyone.
    And by-the-way; all drugs have an impact on the brain. Especially alcohol which kills brain cells.
    Prohibition is the best way to provoke the over-use of any mild drug. Legalization promotes moderation.

    • “There are no documented cases of cannabis killing anyone.”

      Actually, by the standard you set, there are. I can think of at least one incident where a guy got stoned, freaked out, and jumped off a roof to his death. That’s just off the top of my head.

      If alcohol is responsible for traffic accidents and so on, then we need to apply the same standard to marijuana. There are indeed “pot deaths”.

      And whatever that number is, we’re adding it on top of alcohol deaths, not in place of.

      • THAT IS SUCH A MORONIC COMMENT AND FALSE EQUIVALENCY

      • she is correct, but it was also found he had methamphetamine in his system, something that has a history of suicidal thoughts

  3. WHY AREN’T YOU MODERATORS POSTING MY COMMENT?

    • OH SO YOU POST THAT BUT NOT MY ACTUAL COMMENT…THANKS ALOT YOU MORONS

  4. BS

  5. It just does not matter that legal weed can not be advertised. Word of mouth works just fine in this case. Everybody is worried about the details which is fine but there will have to be some trial and error. The laws will not be set in stone. Just make it happen and some of these issues will have obvious solutions moving forward.

  6. Like electoral reform, this was just another thoughtless vote procuring scheme by Mr. Selfie.

    • So now we can object to politicians actually doing what they promised and what they were elected to do? We all had our chance when we voted. For better or worse, democracy caters to the majority although the loud minorities seem to be able to tip the scales in their favor while doctrinaire political parties mostly have a plan to ignore the majority except for rare occasions, i.e. elections, where they feel the need to pander to popular opinion. Which vote procuring scheme do you prefer: promising something with or without any intention of carrying it out?

      • I guess we could ask for politicians to do some research and have a plan in place prior to making promises during campaigns so they wouldn’t have to break them when elected. I don’t believe that is asking too much of them. I do question why a government that ran on this plan to legalize cannabis had the police go around shutting down pot dispensaries prior to announcing plans to implement legalization especially when Trudeau made such an issue about how many were arrested and had criminal records related to pot possession under former governments. The attitude that “it is still illegal and we will still prosecute” seemed quite hypocritical. Also, the length of time it has taken for him to get this law off the ground has been excessive given that he had two US states that he could roll model this laws after. He is hardly making history here.

      • I guess we could ask for politicians to do some research and have a plan in place prior to making promises during campaigns so they wouldn’t have to break them when elected. I don’t believe that is asking too much of them. I do question why a government that ran on this plan to legalize cannabis had the police go around shutting down pot dispensaries prior to announcing plans to implement legalization especially when Trudeau made such an issue about how many were arrested and had criminal records related to pot possession under former governments. The attitude that “it is still illegal and we will still prosecute” seemed quite hypocritical. Also, the length of time it has taken for him to get this law off the ground has been excessive given that he had two US states that he could roll model this laws after. He is hardly making history here.

  7. It can’t possibly have as bad an outcome as the overprescription of opioids that led to the current string of deaths – many of them who were productive, employed people before they got addicted. And that crisis came from our medical system. That in turn is a minor death count compared to alcohol, which we really tried to prohibit and gave up on that as worse than the original problem…but the original problem continues to kills thousands per year to this day. It’s a cost we just accept and even shrug at.

    In that context, all the bodice-ripping surrounding this long-overdue end to the Second Prohibition is a tempest in a teapot.

  8. Some information about marijuana. Though sometimes consumed in baked goods, or inhaled using a vaporizer, it is most often “smoked.” Marijuana smoke contains the same cancer-causing tar as tobacco smoke. Though marijuana smoke does not contain nicotine, it does contain another addictive substance; THC replaces the brain’s natural production of anandamide, and thereby foster’s a chemical dependence. Anandamide makes you feel happy and relaxed. When the brain stops producing this naturally, something else is required to take its place: THC.

    In addition to having tar and addictive THC, marijuana smoke also impairs judgment and motor reflexes. It can also distort perception.

    Second-hand smoke issues related to marijuana are therefore at least as problematic as second-hand smoke issues for tobacco; more so, in fact, because of the impairment issue.

    Impairment does affect one’s ability to use machinery and/or operate a motor-vehicle. There are also issues related to combining marijuana use with various prescription drugs.

    So, is legalization a good thing? I’m not sure that’s the best question. Given the potential risks associated with use, it does seem that some form of regulation is prudent.

    Currently, medicinal components derived from the marijuana plant are available by prescription. This medication is not “smoked,” thereby eliminating the problem with tar. It is medically monitored, at least addressing the potential for addiction, and pharmacists provide data sheets listing health and safety warnings, including possible negative drug interactions. I think that’s a good policy.

    Should the possession of non-prescribed marijuana in small amounts for personal use yield a criminal record? The current law says, “yes,” but many find this too severe. Perhaps legalization is reaching farther than wisdom would suggest. Decriminalization might be a more helpful direction.

    Those with non-prescribed cannabis would have it confiscated, they would be fined, and they could receive education and/or information about the safe use of cannabis’ medicinal ingredients. If medical conditions warrant, they could be prescribed the drug, legally, and possibly receive it for free, dependent upon their medical benefits.

    As for dealing with organized crime? I’m not sure it’s a good idea for the government to simply assume their role in marketing a harmful and addictive product. Law enforcement should focus on those who would like to sell an addictive and harmful drug, especially if children are the intended market.

    I’m hoping the government will find a wise balance between protecting the health and well-being of Canadians and addressing a current law that is viewed by many as overly punitive.

    • Where is the “information” about cannabis that you promised us? All I see is propaganda, some of it off-the-shelf and some that you appear to have invented.

  9. Trudeau is like that shiny new hood ornament on that $50,000.00 new car. It’s looks really good sitting there all pretty and polished, but when push comes to shove that shiny bobble has nothing to do with how the vehicle operates.