VANCOUVER - Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has changed his position on the decriminalization of marijuana and now wants to see the drug legalized, taxed and regulated, a stance that has drawn the ire of the Conservative government but applause from pot activists.
Until recently, Trudeau said he backed decriminalization, but expressed skepticism about full-blown legalization, even though his party adopted the position in January 2012.
But while travelling in B.C. this week, as part of a cross-country summer motorhome trip, Trudeau announced first in the Okanagan city of Kelowna Tuesday and then in Vancouver Thursday that he backed legalization.
"I did a lot of listening, a lot of reading and a lot of paying attention to the very serious studies that have come out, and I realized that going the road of legalization is actually a responsible thing to look at and to do," he said during a stop at Vancouver's English Bay.
“Marijuana is not a health food supplement. It’s not great for you, but it’s certainly, as many studies have shown, not worse for you than cigarettes or alcohol."
The comments come at a key moment of the debate in B.C.
Pot activist Dana Larsen and his organization Sensible BC have been given a green light to begin collecting names for a petition in September to decriminalize the drug. The drive wants to see police prevented from enforcing simple possession laws.
Jodie Emery, the wife of Marc Emery, Canada's so-called Prince of Pot currently imprisoned in the U.S., also announced earlier this month that her husband could soon be transferred to a Canadian prison.
The Conservative government, though, questioned whether Trudeau has the judgement to be the prime minister.
"These drugs are illegal because of the harmful effect they have on users and on society," the party wrote on its website. "We will continue protecting the interests of families across this country.
"Our government has no interest in seeing marijuana legalized or made more easily available to youth."
To support their argument, the Conservatives cited statements from the Canadian Police Association, a former RCMP commissioner, the Drug Prevention Network of Canada, and a criminologist from the University of the Fraser Valley.
Meantime, pot activists applauded Trudeau's new position.
"Having a candidate for prime minister say he wants to legalize marijuana, it just continues the mainstreaming of this perception, of this idea," said Larsen.
He said there was a time when only former politicians talked about legalization, but then current politicians began to speak out, too.
In fact, B.C.'s former Liberal attorney general Geoff Plant and former NDP premier Ujjal Dosanjh have called for the legalization and regulation of marijuana. Their group, the Stop The Violence B.C. Coalition, has pointed to opinion polls that suggest a majority of British Columbians agree with them.
"This just shows how this issue has moved perhaps from what might have been seen as an unpopular fringe issue 10 or 20 or 30 years ago into something where the vast majority of Canadians support this and major politicians feel comfortable expressing this view," said Larsen.
Jodie Emery said it was great to hear Trudeau has joined the pro-legalization side of the debate.
"I don't know if this impacts Marc's situation, but it's good to know that when Marc does return home we'll have a potential prime minister who favours reforming our marijuana laws," she said.
"I think we'll be happy to support Justin Trudeau and his run to become prime minister if he's going to really be serious about making sure prohibition is addressed and serious action is taken."
British Columbia's Liberals have stayed out of the debate, arguing drug laws are federal. In fact, during the campaign leading up to the May provincial election, Premier Christy Clark ridiculed her NDP opponent for even taking a position on the issue.
The Sensible BC campaign was given two months to sign up canvassers and prepare to start collecting signatures Sept. 9.
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<strong>NEXT</strong>: What Is Trudeau Doing?
Come At Me, Bro
Justin Trudeau trains at Pan Am Boxing Club in Winnipeg on Friday Feb. 1, 2013.
Justin Trudeau & co. making faces.
Justin Trudeau splits his pants while pushing the "scrum machine" in support of Prostate Cancer Canada in Toronto Thursday, July 21, 2011.
Justin Trudeau gets his geek on at Montreal Comiccon in September 2012.
So Long 'Stache
Justin Trudeau has his moustache shaved off to raise money for the Judy LaMarsh Fund, that supports female candidates, at the Liberal Party convention in Ottawa on Saturday, January 14, 2012.
Coming For MacKay
Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay (left) is chased by Liberal MP Justin Trudeau in a motorized wheelchair during a wheelchair race relay on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 12, 2010. Twenty-five MPs and senators used a wheelchair for the day in support of the Canadian Paraplegic Association's Spinal Cord Injury and CPA awareness month.
All For One, One For All
Justin Trudeau all dressed up for the Montreal Movember Gala in 2010.
Pierre Trudeau's sons, Sacha, left, and Justin, tackle their mother's paperboy in Ottawa in this undated photo.
'Family... And A Cow.'
He Can Certainly Take A Punch
Alexandre (Sacha) Trudeau delivers a right hook to his older brother Justin during a play fight in 1980 at Ottawa airport as the boys await a flight with the return of their father, then-prime minister, Pierre Trudeau.
Be Honest With Me, Who's Cuter?
Justin Trudeau strikes a pose with an adorable baby.
A Very Furry Christmas
Justin Trudeau poses with his family on his 2010 Christmas card.
Former Liberal MP Ken Dryden, left, and Justin Trudeau play table hockey as they visit Sun Youth, a community organization, Monday, Jan. 14, 2008 in Montreal.
Yanking Their Chain
Then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau, left, watches as his 11-year-old son Justin swings on a chain during a tour of an old fort in the Omani town of Nizwa Dec. 2, 1983. Trudeau and Justin spent the day visiting the towns of Jebel and Nizwa 165 kilometres south of Muscat.
Justin Trudeau in Muskoka, Ont.
Liberal MP Justin Trudeau, centre, has his cowbay taken by his son Xavier, 4 years-old, while his wife Sophie Gregoire, second from left, holds daughet Ella-Grace, 3 years-old, while they attend the party's annual Stampede breakfast in Calgary, Saturday, July 7, 2012. This is the 100th anniversary of the Stampede.
Like Mother, Like Son
Eleven-month-old Justin Trudeau, urged on by his mother Margaret Trudeau, crawls up the steps of an aircraft in Ottawa on Dec. 5, 1972 to meet his father, then-prime minister, Pierre Trudeau on his return from Britain.
Cutting A Rug
Justin Trudeau dances with wife Sophie Grégoire before his speech at the Liberal showcase on April 6, 2013.
Next: What Is Pierre Trudeau Doing?
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, wearing what someone called his "Mandrake the Magician outfit," walks down the grandstand steps to present the Grey Cup trophy to the victorious Montreal Alouettes in this Nov. 28, 1970 photo.
Hey, It Was The '70s
Pierre Trudeau leans over to kiss an unidentified young lady to the seeming surprise of his recent bride Margaret. Trudeau and Margaret spent Saturday March 27, 1971 at maple tree farm here near Montreal at a sugaring out party.
Fur Wasn't Always Controversial
Pierre Trudeau accompanies Margaret Sinclair, at the annual Governor General's skating party for members of Parliament in Ottawa Jan. 14, 1970.
Ditto For Seal Hunting
Pierre Trudeau looks through the scope of his rifle while on a seal hunting trip in Baffin Island's Clear Water Fjord, July 29, 1968.
A Leg Up
Pierre Trudeau shoes off his frisbee catching style while waiting to board his plane in Vancouver May 16, 1979.
Calisthenics Were Still Cool
Pierre Trudeau had no trouble keeping himself occupied during a break from a boat trip down the Northwest Territories, Nahanni River, Monday Aug. 4, 1970.
Pierre Trudeau takes a wary look at an ice crevice, decides to chance it and makes the leap successfully during a midnight seal- hunting expedition at Clearwater Fjord in Canada's Arctic, July 29, 1968.
When in France...
Pierre Trudeau receives a kiss from his wife Margaret during a tour of St. Pierre, France, Aug. 1971.
Pierre Trudeau in Guayana 1974.
Friendlier With Reporters Than You Know Who
Pierre Trudeau sticks his tongue out to Canadian Press Photographer Peter Bregg during the 1972 election campaign. This photo was taken aboard the campaign plane where such antics were considered off the record. The photo was not made available until after the death of the prime minister
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau dances in Montreal Oct. 21, 1979.
Acting like a Beatle
Pierre Trudeau sprints away from a crowd of female admirers in Ottawa April 22, 1968. They surrounded him outside the Parliament Buildings on his third day in office.
Posing with a Beatle
John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, meet with Pierre Trudeau Dec. 24, 1969 in Ottawa.
'I See Cigars And Rum In Our Future'
Pierre Trudeau looks on as Cuban President Fidel Castro gestures during a visit to a Havana housing project in this Jan. 27, 1976 photo.
Acting Out A Tory Fantasy?
Pierre Trudeau pretending to strangle himself with a tie given to him as he was presented with honorary membership in the National Press Club in Ottawa Sept. 17, 1968.
Pierre Trudeau amuses a group of people in Fortune while on tour through Newfoundland, Aug. 3, 1971.
Oh Captain! My Captain!
Pierre Trudeau takes a ride on the Bluenose, Aug. 1972.
Nice Form Pierre
Pierre Trudeau works out at an Oshawa health club during a break in his 1968 election campaign.
Are The Flowers Too Much?
Pierre Trudeau, with a garland around his neck and a Hindu greeting symbol in paste on his forhead, rides a camel Jan 12, 1971 in the village of Benares, India, where he dedicated a water well.
I Do Love Flowers
Pierre Trudeau kids around with a carnation while waiting for voting results at the Liberal convention in this April 7, 1968 photo.
Indiana Jones Of The Great White North
Pierre Trudeau tries cracking a dog sled whip while visiting Baker Lake in the Arctic, March 10, 1970.
Never Afraid To Dance
Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Sheik Yamani, left, and Pierre Trudeau, right, dance a traditional Arabian dance while camping out in the desert in Madein Saleh, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 18, 1980.
Or Rock A Skirt
Pierre Trudeau, seen here taking part in Maori ceremonial dance in Wellington, New Zealand May 13, 1970.