Marijuana activist Marc-Boris St-Maurice is the founder of the Marijuana Party of Canada and director of the Montreal Compassion Centre. In 2005, he left the Marijuana Party to join the Liberal party. We spoke yesterday about Justin Trudeau and the revitalized debate around marijuana. The following interview has been edited and condensed.
Q. What was your reaction to Trudeau’s taking a position on marijuana legalization?
A. Well, I was pleased. I have seen Justin around at Liberal events for quite a few years and he had been one of the more reluctant of those MPs that I had seen when it came to the issue. So when I saw him come on side I was certainly happy and refreshed. With the policy convention that was in January 2012, 77% of the members on the convention floor in favour of legalization, I figure as leader of the party I think he’d be in a very sticky situation to go against that. Especially that it was a prioritized resolution, so it’s certainly an issue that’s important for the members. So I’m glad he’s coming around. I haven’t seen him since he’s made those statements, but I’m looking forward to shaking his hand. I think we’re going to have a good laugh.
Q. Had you ever spoken to him in the past about this issue?
A. Oh yes, often. And if you look at his comments prior to becoming leader and prior to the convention, his position was like, you know, we have to be cautious and we don’t want the health problems associated with it and all this. He was reluctant, up until then.
Q. Do you think it mainly had to do with the party coming around on its position that influenced him?
A. Well, I like to think that my general prodding might have helped. (laughs) (Editor’s note: I’m told Mr. Trudeau was not influenced by Mr. St-Maurice’s lobbying.) But sure, of course, the membership approving that and I think polls and I think also positioning himself in contrast to the Conservative government. So it’s the sensible thing to do. Anyone who’s, you know, kind of, I think, enlightened and takes the time to look at the issue should come to that conclusion. Maybe, I don’t think he’d taken the time to study it closely enough. I think it is the smart thing to do. And, of course, the membership approving it and him becoming the leader it’d be hard for him to not look at that option.
Q. And how do you feel about the debate that has followed?
A. Well, I’m glad it’s back to the forefront. It had sort of fallen into the shadows lately. It’s one of these pendulum things that comes back and forth, so it’s now back on the table. And I think it’s going to be an issue in the next election. It’s not going to be the main issue, but it’s going to come up. And it’s a huge issue in BC right now with Sensible BC and the referendum. It’s huge in the United States, it’s huge in Europe, so yeah, I definitely this it’s an issue whose time has come.
Q. Do you think Trudeau can successfully win with this position?
A. Well, he’s going to need to do more than just that obviously.
Q. But does this issue scare people away?
A. I don’t think anymore. Maybe 15, 20 years ago it would have been political suicide. Now it’s smart politics.
Q. Do you wish at all that the Marijuana Party was more of an entity? It seems to have faded over the years.
A. It still exists. I’m proud of the work that I did. I think it served its purpose. It was very useful at getting a loud voice to bring the issue further. When I stepped down from the Marijuana Party and joined the Liberals, part of that was I think you can only go so far with a fringe party. And that had kind of peaked and sticking around doing just the Marijuana Party, I think ran the risk of just losing the issue into a nice, fringe element.
Q. There are two issues with Trudeau. One is the political position he’s taken in terms of legalization and this other issue that has come up is the fact that he has admitted to smoking marijuana since becoming an MP. Do you think it’s a problem that he’s smoked marijuana since becoming an MP and essentially broken the law?
A. Well, there’s been an interesting debate on semantics because in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, consumption is not actually forbidden. Now, can one consume without actually being in possession? There’s an interesting discussion right there. But besides that, so many people have admitted to smoking marijuana. When and whether or not they were an MP at the time, I think is secondary. I’m pretty sure Justin is not a pothead, in the strict sense of the term, which is why I think he can make these statements. It’s not like he’s a habitual user, so he’s tried it a few times. I think that will eventually blow over. And I actually admire that he made the statements and he stood by them. And people tried to attack him on it and I think he stands to gain more out of that. Because he’s got nothing to hide, he’s honest about it. He put it out there and they took the bait. And I think he stands to gain from that.
Q. So how do you see this playing out? Do you think we’re near enough on this issue that after 2015 it could be legalized or do you think this is still an issue that needs more time for people to ruminate on what they want to do?
A. It’s an issue that’s getting a lot of attention, that’s pretty important. My only fear, and I’ve seen this in the past, is government coming into power, Liberal government for instance, and then making this a priority. That’s what concerns me is that, of course, people talk a big game leading up to elections and whatnot and then when a party does form government, suddenly this no longer seems to be the, forgive the pun, burning issue anymore. That’s where I guess my job and everyone’s job is to keep this a priority. But he has put it on the record, so one way or the other, even if it’s not the main focus of his mandate, that’s going to be hard to justify getting stricter. And the impact on the social climate is still there—general attitudes and people going to court for simple possession where these statements have been made, certainly it’s helpful.
Q. Do you have any concern at all that there are still people who, when the idea of drug legalization in any capacity comes up, are turned off by it? That’s there’s still a certain amount of fear. And do you worry that this debate could become polarized?
A. Well, I hope it becomes polarized. That’s kind of what’s good now, hearing politicians taking on the issue. Prior to that, people were non-committal. People were like, it’s not important, who cares. Now people are either for or against. And that’s the kind of polarization that I do appreciate. And it helps, I think, further the issue. It’s easier when people don’t take a position for it to get lost in the cracks. And seeing Trudeau taking such a firm and affirmative position, I think, is going to do wonders. And I think most people are in favour. So we need the leaders to speak about that. And I welcome that polarization because I’m pretty confident that my side will prevail.