Justin Trudeau's statement in favour of legalizing pot sparked a significant amount of political chatter. But political observers are split on whether this stance is likely to buy the Liberals any more votes in the next election.

"I don't think many people will vote on the basis of this issue," says Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.

Nor does he feel Trudeau's new perspective will force the Conservatives to reconsider their own position going into the next election.

"To win an election, you don't have to win public opinion — you just have to win 38 per cent of it," says Wiseman, referring to the percentage of the popular vote that Harper's Conservatives took in the 2008 and 2011 elections.

Still, Donald McPherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, a national advocacy group that wants to scale back the drug war rhetoric, likens Trudeau's reconsideration of his party's pot policy to U.S. President Barack Obama's "evolution" on same-sex marriage.

"That was a gutsy move," McPherson says of Obama. "But he'd figured it out, he'd read the polls, he took the plunge."

"I can't speculate if this will get any votes for Trudeau or not, but I suspect he'll get more votes than lose them on this one, just because of strong public opinion," says McPherson.

He also suggests that Trudeau's new position "paints Harper as a stodgy old, dyed-in-the-wool conservative who refuses to accept reality."

Late last week, the federal Liberal leader told a rally in Kelowna, B.C. that legalizing marijuana is "one of the only ways to keep it out of the hands of our kids, because the current war on drugs, the current model is not working.

"We have to use evidence and science to make sure we're moving forward on that," he went on.

The immediate political response was unequivocal.

The Conservative Party has vigorously opposed legalization and, after two earlier tries died on the parliamentary order paper, finally passed a law a year ago that sets mandatory minimum prison sentences for pot possession, depending on circumstances.

Justice Minister Peter Mackay said, "I would think Mr. Trudeau should look at other areas in which we can end violence and drug use and end this societal ill."

A post on the Conservative Party web site said the fact "that one of Justin Trudeau's first policy priorities is legalizing marijuana demonstrates once again that he does not have the judgment to be prime minister."

Meanwhile, the NDP, which has long advocated decriminalizing marijuana, called Trudeau's announcement "political pandering."

"He's moved around on the issue quite a bit," says Libby Davies, NDP MP for Vancouver East. She also noted that, as a rookie MP, Trudeau voted in favour of C-15, the first attempt by the Harper Conservatives to establish minimum sentences for possession of marijuana.

She says Canadians "have to look at his consistency, or lack thereof, and determine what his actual position is."

The NDP favours decriminalization, which would remove the risk of arrest for possession of small amounts of pot, because it would give legislators an opportunity to review the outcome and plan a regulatory framework before potentially proceeding to full legalization, Davies says.

Divisive issue

The debate over the legalization of pot is a recurring theme in Canadian politics. The Liberal government under Jean Chretien introduced a bill to decriminalize marijuana in 2003, but it failed to pass.

But the response to Trudeau's announcement demonstrates the divisiveness of the issue.

When CBC News contacted the Manning Centre, a conservative think tank based in Calgary, for a response, a spokesperson emailed back to say "we won't be commenting on that issue."

Trudeau's announcement looks to capitalize on a number of factors, says Dana Larsen, director of the non-profit group Sensible B.C., which is campaigning for a provincial referendum on marijuana decriminalization in 2014.

The first is an increasingly relaxed public attitude to marijuana. An Angus Reid poll done last fall found 57 per cent of Canadians support legalization.

The second is growing liberalization in the U.S., where 19 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana and two — Washington and Colorado — recently voted in favour of fully legalizing the drug.

"The number one reason that Canadian politicians have said that Canada won't change on marijuana has been, 'Well, we can't do anything until the U.S. has done it. They'll close the borders, they'll get upset with us,'" notes McPherson at the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. "That reason is now questionable."

For her part, the NDP's Davies believes that taking a more progressive stance on marijuana can be a vote-getter. "I think there's a very strong public policy to get on with this, and develop public policies based on rational evidence," she says.

But while he applauds Trudeau's current position, Sensible B.C.'s Larsen remains guarded about whether the Liberal leader will follow through.

"The question will be whether he continues to talk about this. It's easy to say stuff when you're in third place."

Earlier on HuffPost:

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  • Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau saddles up a horse in a Kamloops, B.C. stable.

  • A Trail, B.C. meets with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on July 23.

  • Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is welcomed to Vancouver by a group of people by English Bay.

  • Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and wife Sophie Grégoire hold hands in an RV on their tour through interior B.C.

  • Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau had some pancakes made for him by Xavier at Steve's Place in Canal Flats, B.C.

  • Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau takes a ride on the Nelson, B.C. trolley on Sunday with his family.

  • Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau visits Truscott Farms in Creston, B.C.

  • Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and his family hike to Kokanee Lake, B.C. Trudeau's younger brother, Michel, was killed in 1998 when he was swept into the lake by an avalanche.

  • <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.

  • Peekaboo!

    Justin Trudeau & co. making faces.

  • Riiiiip!

    Justin Trudeau splits his pants while pushing the "scrum machine" in support of Prostate Cancer Canada in Toronto Thursday, July 21, 2011.

  • Don't Shoot!

    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.

  • Get Him!

    Pierre Trudeau's sons, Sacha, left, and Justin, tackle their mother's paperboy in Ottawa in this undated photo.

  • 'Family... And A Cow.'

    'Nuff said.

  • 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.

  • Game On!

    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.

  • Rocking Out

    Justin Trudeau in Muskoka, Ont.

  • YeeHaw!

    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?

  • Magician?

    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.

  • The Outfit...

    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.

  • Running Man

    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

  • Disco Stu

    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.

  • Unfortunate Hat

    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.