OTTAWA — Some members of the marijuana movement are concerned about the government's decision to make Toronto's former police chief a point man on legalizing pot, activist and former Liberal hopeful Jodie Emery said Friday.
Liberal MP Bill Blair, parliamentary secretary to Justice Minister Jody-Wilson Raybould, has been tapped to take a leading role on the file, working closely with the departments of Justice, Public Safety and Health.
Jodie Emery, wife of marijuana activist Marc Emery listens to her husband during his 'welcome home party' in Vancouver, B.C., on Aug.17, 2014. (Ben Nelms/CP)
"The minister of justice and her colleagues are confident that parliamentary secretary Blair's experience and background in public safety will be a great asset to the government's work to ensure a careful and thoughtful approach to the legalization and regulation of marijuana," said Justice spokesman Andrew Gowing.
Emery, whose husband Marc is Canada's self-styled "prince of pot," said she has her doubts, considering police have traditionally been champions of cracking down on marijuana, not legalizing it.
"One of my concerns and one of the biggest concerns of the marijuana movement, the community who have been fighting for this for decades ... is that police have always been the biggest cheerleaders for prohibition and they've been our adversaries in this whole historical movement," she said.
Emery, who tried to run for a Liberal nomination last year but was not recommended by the party, said she understands why the government is turning to Blair for public relations reasons.
"With the whole world watching Canada right now, the Liberal government doesn't want to be seen as pro-pot"
"The Liberals suffered a lot of attacks from the Conservatives over legalization," she said.
"With the whole world watching Canada right now, the Liberal government doesn't want to be seen as pro-pot; they don't want to be perceived as legalizing it to make Canada into a weed country."
The choice of Blair suggests the government understands the various challenges and public safety concerns that come with legal marijuana, Canadian Police Association president Tom Stamatakis said in a statement.
"We look forward to working constructively with him on this file."
"Can't ask for a better spokesperson," expert says
Adam Goldenberg, a lawyer at McCarthy Tetrault with expertise in marijuana regulation, said he wasn't surprised to see Blair chosen to fill the role.
"If your message is crime control and public safety, you can't ask for a better spokesperson than a former police chief," said Goldenberg, a former speechwriter for then-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.
"It's going to be very difficult to point at an MP whom most of us are used to seeing in a highly decorated police uniform and accuse him of being soft on crime."
Blair also represents a riding in Scarborough, one of several in the Toronto area that are likely to be Liberal-Tory battlegrounds in the next election, he added.
"One suspects that the (Prime Minister's Office) sees Mr. Blair as the right person in the right place at the right time."
The first step in the process is to establish a provincial, territorial and federal task force that would consult public health, substance abuse and safety experts.
Blair will work with that panel, once convened, to develop legislative and policy responses on this issue, Gowing said.