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The Liberal Party of Canada Considers Taking a Hit

The delegates at the Liberal Party policy convention last week voted 77% in favor of cannabis legalization. The reaction to this decision both outside and within the party has generally been positive. This is not surprising considering most Canadians agree with the Liberals on this issue. In a recent poll by Forum Research Inc., it showed that 66% of Canadians supported the decriminalization or legalization of marijuana.

When the issue of marijuana legalization is understood fully, it seems absolutely ridiculous that the substance is still illegal under Canadian law.  In terms of health effects, a study done by the American Medical Association showed that ‘occasional and low cumulative marijuana use was not associated with adverse effects on pulmonary function’ and even that ‘heavy use was not significantly different from the baseline.’ Indeed, the overwhelming majority of research done on the effects of marijuana shows that it is far less harmful to one’s health than alcohol or cigarettes.

Beyond just the health debate, the continuing criminalization of marijuana seems even more ludicrous.  For anyone who has watched HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, the wide-ranging detrimental effects of prohibition are obvious when a large portion of the populace are still regular users of the illicit substance. Not only does marijuana prohibition encourage large-scale organized crime operations, but a 2002 Senate report showed that it costs 300 million annually to enforce the existing marijuana laws. Within the context of the current global economic crisis, it seems counterintuitive to continue to uphold these marijuana laws given the cost for both the justice and penal systems.

Instead of keeping these obviously archaic and outdated laws, Canadian law should align itself with the popular opinion of its citizens. Legalize it, regulate it and tax it. Not only would the government be able to save the money that it currently spends on enforcing such laws, but it would gain a new source of revenue through taxation. The economy has only to gain from legalization, as marijuana is potentially a very lucrative cash crop and the illicit marijuana trade is certainly a drain on our resources.

As for the Liberals, this is definitely a good political strategy. It already has people talking and taking notice of the supposed ‘rebuilding’ of the party.  It is controversial and in definite opposition to the Conservative Party. This is a good start, considering the Liberals need to further differentiate themselves from the Conservatives and become a true center party if they have any hope of returning to their previous ‘natural ruling party of Canada’ status.

However, this issue is not as simple as it may first appear. The policy implications for legalizing cannabis are incredibly complicated and there are many practical questions that must be answered. The Liberal party itself must also go beyond this singular, attention-grabbing issue in order to regain the support they have lost over the past four years. They must show themselves as a real alternative to the Conservative party and do more than focus on issues that only appeal to the political left.

It must also be noted that this is not the first time that the Liberal party has brought marijuana legalization into their policy. It was at the 1978 national convention when the party first passed a resolution regarding the decriminalization of marijuana. The party approved such a resolution again in 2000. When the Liberals left power in 2006, marijuana was still an illicit substance under Canadian law.

Judging from this, marijuana legalization is probably just a ploy by the Liberals to attract attention from socially liberal and young voters. If their record is any indication, the Liberals have shown they are willing to pass around the joint but they don’t quite have the nerve to take a hit.

–  Joey Shea

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