How marijuana could be a losing issue for Harper

Harper’s pot wedge: Up in smoke

Paul Wells on how Harper’s winning issue is losing its kick

Pawel Dwulit/CP

Pawel Dwulit/CP

Nathan Silver has great fun with the news that the New York Times editorial board has come out for marijuana legalization. Silver asks the obvious question: Is there a group of adult Americans likelier to support marijuana legalization than the editorial board of the New York Times, unless it’s (maybe) the editorial board of Kush L.A.? And then, being Nate Silver, he crunches the numbers: Recent polling suggests that in any group of affluent middle-aged moderate-to-liberal New Yorkers—that is, roughly speaking, any randomly selected cohort of New York Times editorialists—about 81 per cent could be expected to support pot legalization. Once again, the editorial page is an unreliable source of real news.

But here, Silver declines a chance to suggest the Times is Out of Touch with the Real Murrican People. Because the American people have been changing their mind on pot, and rather swiftly. And, more germane for our interests up here at Maclean’s, some Canadians’ minds have been changing, too. 

In 2011, Silver wrote at the time, Gallup found its first U.S.-wide majority in favour of marijuana legalization. The long-term trend chart in that article is fascinating: Support for it sometimes rises and falls, but the level of support seen these days would have looked crazy in, say, the early 1970s. Of course, this helps to explain recent legalization initiatives in a handful of U.S. states. You could say it’s a profound cultural shift—as, indeed, the Los Angeles Times did, yesterday.

Up here, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been hitting hard at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s advocacy of marijuana legalization for about a year now. Really hard: I don’t think the extent of the radio, TV and paper campaign against Trudeau and pot has yet been tallied. Here’s one early effort of mine to provide a partial accounting. The Conservative case against today’s Liberals, in fact, can be summed up as a general argument that they lack judgment and their leader lacks more than most; and a specific case that he’s high and wants to get your children high, too.

My own hunch, discussed at length in this column from last September, was that Harper was onto something. Advocates of pot legalization are a loud and self-impressed bunch, I wrote, but they’re balanced by other people in other parts of the country who still greatly fear the demon weed—and outnumbered by many others who don’t care about the disposition of the law and won’t vote for a party just because of its views on pot.

But views change. One suggestion that they’re changing in Canada comes from Faron Ellis at Lethbridge College, who’s done several waves of public-opinion polling in Alberta on social issues. In 2013, for the first time, Ellis and his colleagues found majority support in Alberta for decriminalization of marijuana for recreational use. Support for liberalized laws on recreational pot had grown by more than 10 points in only two years. In Alberta.

Now, in a multi-party system, it doesn’t matter much whether absolute majorities go one way or another on an issue. What matters is how much of the electorate is with you, and how many options are available to those who are against you: If only Conservatives are strongly against pot liberalization, and the pro-ganja vote is split among Liberals, New Democrats, Greens and the Bloc, Harper might still do nicely.

But it’s also possible that the arguments the New York Times finally dares to make are appealing to growing numbers of people everywhere, including growing numbers of Canadians. Their number could include libertarians, as Colby Cosh has pointed out, who would otherwise be likely to vote Conservative, but who have had quite enough of the Harper crowd’s school-marmish finger-wagging.

I’m not sure how marijuana will play in a general election, or whether it’s salient enough to make any real difference. A year’s polling on political party preferences suggests it hasn’t exactly been a magic bullet against the Trudeau Liberals. Opposition to same-sex marriage was a strong incentive to form a united Conservative party more than a decade ago and, now, that issue has just about vanished as a differentiator among political parties. That sort of thing could happen again on another issue, and Harper must worry that it is.


Harper’s pot wedge: Up in smoke

  1. And yet, every once in a while, you can see some members of the Con base use the tired old phrase: Pothead Justin!
    Just shows you how out-of-step the Con base is on this file.
    Message to the kids in short pants: during the next federal campaign, scrap the Pothead schpeel, will you ! You’ll just look ridiculous.

  2. ”Paradigm shift underway. Drive carefully.”


    Things are now moving so fast that the Libs….fresh from recent policy decisions…..are now also falling behind public sentiment.

    • Oh Emily,
      Try taking your Con-Reform glasses off for a moment.
      Harper and his kids in short pants were first off the block with the ‘Justin Pothead’ attacks.
      To which Trudeau didn’t respond much.
      Meanwhile, public sentiment for pot is shifting, with more and more Canadians approving its legalization (which Trudeau has mentioned too).
      And so you say, the Libs are behind on this issue.
      Pauvre Emily, ouvre tes yeux.

      • Sigh…you must be new here. I am definitely NOT Con-Reform!

        Not Lib/NDP or Green either. Like 95% of Canadians I don’t belong to a political party.

        I said nothing about the Libs being behind on pot….it’s on other things. Israel for example.

        • As the article was specifically on pot legalization and its impact on Canadian politics and voter preferences, if you were NOT addressing the pot issue, then maybe you should have been explicit about that in your comment.

          Otherwise, readers will think you’re completely out of touch (not that they would be wrong).

        • I have to agree with you on the Israeli thing too Emilyone. As you may or may not know, I very rarely criticize libs, but on this one, I’m very uncomfortable with it. I don’t see conflict, I see innocent children getting killed here, its very disturbing to watch. The Jewish community may be pleased with this kind response, but I’m a non-Jewish Canadian who is not.

          • Yeah, huge paradigm shift lately…and the politicians don’t seem to be picking up on any of it.

            Harp’s the worst with his stupid 50’s ‘reefer madness’ ….but Trudeau seemed more up-to-date. I expected more sensitivity to the zeitgeist.

            However this Israeli support is bizarre….I thought he’d at least go back to ‘honest broker’…..but it’s far beyond that.

            Lots of Jews are disturbed by what’s coming out of Israel as well.

            It seems our politicians….all over, really…simply can’t keep up.

  3. A lot of young people are saying they’ll vote Liberal because of the pot issue. Now, turn out amongst young adults is generally poor but they could be a factor if they do decide to mark their ballots come next election.

  4. What will the media party and opposition say if the Conservatives were to introduce legislation modeled on the Colorado and Washington State reforms?

    • The country wont believe anything that comes out of the mouths of Harper and his cons about wanting to legalize or decriminalize, so the media would only waste its time and space printing it. That would be nothing but pure pandering on behalf of Harper and the cons, something like the cons going into the next election as a team, pure propaganda. This doesn’t fit the M O of the cons law and order agenda, and on trust of this government, Harpers trust meter is growing thin with Canadians. I think its a great idea to have Harper at the Helm for the 2015 election, because he(Harper) has never had this much baggage hanging around his neck as he did in 2011 election, as he does today. That’s all Trudeau will have to do in 2015 on the stage, is say, look at these angry 2 men(Harper, Mulcair) full of scandal and corruption.

      • I doubt there is anyone who would believe anything that comes out of the mouth of someone who calls them self “carpet bomber”, well……….except maybe Emily.

        • I wouldn’t give much credit to a name like billy bob either. The carper bomber thing means I will be carpet bombing your buddy harper with comments as much as I can on the comment boards, and as many comment boards I can find to write on, with rhetoric and tin foil comments in order to drive you and your conservative trolls nuts, between this and the next election. I don’t know emilyone at all, but I know she can take care of herself, I just read some of her comments, and I don’t feel I wasted my time reading her comments, but I find it a total waste of time to read yours, and thank you for reading mine.

          • The only carpets you bomb are when you shit yourself.

    • Colorado is the model to follow. They used way more common sense than Washington state and therefore that model works best. I don’t think Harper could say anything at this point that Canadians would believe.

  5. A party’s position on cannabis law reform tells us whether or not the party promotes legislation based on solid evidence or legislation based on ideology. If a party still supports cannabis prohibition, then they are obviously brain dead, oblivious to both science and the will of the electorate. If they support legally regulating cannabis like alcohol and tobacco, then odds are they are at least passingly familiar with the literature on the subject.

    • Do you think that governments were thinking about science when they were allowing alcohol and tobacco to be sold to the public, they new, but they didn’t care, even with new science proving tobacco and alcohol can cause all kinds of cancers, illnesses and social problems. Everything we eat, from fish to meat and poultry are injected and force fed with antibiotics, do governments do anything to stop that, I don’t think so. Adults can make adult choices, If you don’t like it, you don’t have to consume it, simple as that, and finally, I would rather get my pot from government regulated sources than from some biker club or criminal organization that are involved with other criminal activities, and put it towards taxes and educate our society about the use of pot for kids under age 18(not that I smoke pot either). Its not Ideology, its a common sense progressive approach.

      • common sense progressive approach…………………now there’s an oxymoron.

        • Some of your responses, Billy Bob, are so childish.

      • Well said.

  6. Help Heidi with the numbers
    Posted on July 12, 2014 

    Paul Wells does not read or does not believe Heidi’s numbers – … Harper has licenced at this time approximately twenty – five licensed facilities gearing up for production ?

    ” Our government is allowing marijuana for 1,700,000 joints to be produced every day, we have 40,000 consumers which would mean each consumer will smoke over forty joints a day.
    Heidi couldn’t do that in fact I would bet Heidi couldn’t even light 40 joints in a day without falling over before noon. “

  7. In politics, it’s always better to be the party committed to doing something rather than the party who actually has to do something.
    Canadian political parties won’t do anything. The Le Dain Commission published its report in 1972, recommending the repeal of prohibition of possession and cultivation for personal use. How many governments have passed through the halls of the House of Commons since then and have done nothing. All of them.

    • point being – ” Harper lies ” while selling grow opts to friends . ( PMO advertising in MaClean’s ? )

      “Up here, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been hitting hard at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s advocacy of marijuana legalization for about a year now. Really hard: I don’t think the extent of the radio, TV and paper campaign against Trudeau and pot has yet been tallied. Here’s one early effort of mine to provide a partial accounting. The Conservative case against today’s Liberals, in fact, can be summed up as a general argument that they lack judgment and their leader lacks more than most; and a specific case that he’s high and wants to get your children high, too. ”

  8. It could also be noted that contrary to what many Tory supporters may believe,
    Marc Emery is not, philosophically, a leftie. He has many leftie supporters re. his drugs issue stance, but he’s defined himself as libertarian, a conservative (not a liberal), in the same way Ron Paul is a libertarian conservative. Emery’s supporting the Liberal Party currently simply because it’s the only major party that supports his view as a Libertarian the gov’t has no business telling one what popular substances one can ingest & which one cannot for fear of unjustly being deemed a criminal, at least in the case of pot.

    A number of prominent U.S. conservatives have come out against drugs prohibition & believe, as a rational conservative stance, that all popular drugs should be legal & regulated like tobacco & alcohol. William F. Buckley Jr., father of modern American conservatism, was for repeal of drugs prohibition laws, as is former Republican Secretary of State George Schultz, as is former Republican Senator Ron Paul who ran to become U.S. Presidential candidate for the Republican Party, & I believe his politician son, Rand Paul.

    Drugs prohibition uis certainly not a long-standing tradition, politically or philosophically, on either right or left. Prohibition’s a historical & cultural aberration, just 100 years old, a failed social experiment. For almost all of human history it was viewed as a human right to take popular psychoactive substances as one so chose. Ending the failed, unjust, & counterproductive war on drugs is not a left vs. right issue, & SHOULD be an issue both left & right can agree on again, as many in fact on the left – right scale already do. Harper’s gang’s pro-drug war stance places them on the wrong side of history at this juncture in 2014. Instead of whipping Trudeau on the issue they’re whipping a dead horse & themselves as their stance demonstrates they’re out of touch, even with their own base in increasing numbers, as Wells points out. Tories should beware “drugs,” as “drugs” may help destroy Harper’s gang next election!

    • please google owners of harper licenced grow opts which have the production capacity well beyond medical use … note oil patch CEO & executive ” lefties ” who are involved .

    • Lefties? Don’t you mean terrorists? Harpers government must go for so many reasons. It is time to end the unjustified persecution of a large swathe of Canadians who choose to make a safer choice to alcohol. This is the real crime being committed by our government against it’s own people.