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Media Bites: Legal Marijuana's Token Opposition Comes Unrolled

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I'm not a big fan of legalizing cannabis but I can still concede it's going to happen sooner or later. The momentum's just too strong.

Seventeen American states have decriminalized pot possession to date and two have legalized it completely. Nineteen allow marijuana to be purchased for "medicinal" use (as does this country) and in states like California that permit unaccountable, privately-run medical dispensaries to sell the drug, the status quo's basically de facto legalization. Last year Prime Minister Harper announced Canada would soon embrace the California model.

British Columbia might have a referendum next year on some kind of backdoor decriminalization providing the loopy folks in charge can gather enough signatures. Should it go to ballot, the province would join states like Arizona, Alaska, Montana, and Nebraska who are expected to put similar questions before voters in 2015.

Twice now, the Obama administration has stated it will not aggressively enforce Washington's comparatively harsher drug laws upon states where, in the President's words, "you've seen the voters speak on this issue." In Joint Ventures, a wonderfully insightful 2011 book on America's "almost legal marijuana industry," author Trish Regan specifically credited Attorney General Eric Holder's 2009 declaration of non-aggression against pot-friendly states with helping accelerate the already rapid growth of American cannabis commerce.

Talking of voters, their opinions seem no less lopsided. An Angus Reid poll taken last year found 54 per cent of Americans and 57 per cent of Canadians ready to head down the legalization trail.

And now we have Justin Trudeau outing himself as Canada's first openly pro-legalization prime ministerial candidate.

There are valid arguments to make against all this. The question of demand, for instance.

In a world where alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and antidepressants already flow freely, what is it exactly about daily living that's so miserable we need yet another legal mood-altering intoxicant to escape it? Regardless whether pot is "worse" or "better" than the various other garbage substances we routinely ingest, a society full of citizens forever scrambling to cloud their minds with fresh and fantastical highs is hardly one that reeks of healthy living. Particularly when study after study, such as the one released last week by the science journal Nature, continue to raise concerns about the link between marijuana and mental illness.

But these are complicated arguments, particularly in the face of the pro-pot movement's blunt appeal to freedom of choice and soothing calls to accept the weed-tolerant reality we're basically already living. So no one bothers to make them anymore. The great conservative polemist Peter Hitchens once wrote a book describing the anti-pot crusade as The War We Never Fought; these days it's fast becoming the war we barely even argue.

To the extent Justin's pro-pot reveal generated any critical commentary in the Canadian press, for instance, almost none of it came from writers championing the opposite position. At the Globe and MailMargaret Wente jumped down J-Tru's throat not for pushing legalization (which she favours), but for his touchy-feely (and wrong) claim that doing so would somehow keep it out of the hands of kiddies. Matt Gurney at the National Post echoed similar sentiments. "Right idea, wrong reason," he sniffed.

Maclean's Colby Cosh, meanwhile, was uppity Trudeau lacked the courage to go even further. Enough with all these "hedges and cautions and yes buts" about taxes and regulations, he grumbled, just give the plant "the exact legal status of edamame or chrysanthemums" and be done with it. It's only because his dopey party has been captive "for so long to so much conventional wisdom" that we're even celebrating Justin's "bland common sense" as some kinda epiphany, nods the Post's reliably libertarian Chris Selley.

The Sun News editorial board remains the only major media voice I'm aware of that's actually criticized the Liberal boss for the merits of his idea, as opposed to merely the logic or rhetoric he's used to justify it. And even then, as their headline indicates ("Justin Trudeau flips on legalized pot") much of their critique simply focuses on the man's lack of consistency.

Even that, alas, was still a vastly smarter rebuttal than the one offered by the Tory Party itself, which simply asserted that "the fact that one of Justin Trudeau's first policy priorities is legalizing marijuana demonstrates once again that he does not have the judgement to be Prime Minister" with barely any further collaboration.

This is what passes for a marijuana debate in modern Canada. One side is so cocksure and passionate they long ago took victory for granted and now just quibble over details; the other is mostly silent and unseen, and the few arguments they are able to cobble together bear the unmistakable mark of minds who've never really had to justify their position in the past -- and apparently never anticipated getting called to do it in the future, either.

Whether it's due to cowardice, embarrassment, or just sheer laziness, Canada, like America, presently lacks anything that could be described as an intellectually thoughtful, politically intimidating, popularly supported, incrementally growing anti-drug movement. What we have instead is a pathetically imbalanced fight unfolding in perfect sync with the "pro" faction's prefered storyline: clear-thinking politicians, activists and academics backed by hearty public support versus the assorted dinosaurs running the law enforcement establishment and Tory caucus.

It all adds up to a lot of good news for the Marijuana lobby. The right to toke comes a lot easier when your opposition's only token.

Justin Trudeau Tours B.C.
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