11/18/2012 07:56 EST | Updated 01/18/2013 05:12 EST

Waiting For A Trudeau To Decriminalize Marijuana

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DENVER, CO - APRIL 20: Rob Vallela of Denver, Colorado smokes as thousands gathered to celebrate the state's nedicinal marijuana laws and collectively light up at 4:20 p.m. in Civic Center Park April 20, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. Vallela has a medical marijuana card for severe nausea and said it has been helpful for his condition, adding 'if you're happy, then your body feels good.' Colorado goes to the polls November 6 to vote on a controversial ballot initiative that would permit possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for those 21 and older. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

Earlier this month, Washington and Colorado voted to legalize recreational marijuana for adults. One week later, Liberal Party of Canada leadership contender Justin Trudeau announced to a high school audience in Prince Edward Island that he is "a huge supporter of decriminalization" of marijuana. It's a fantastic declaration and fits with the Liberal Party's official platform position endorsing marijuana legalization.

For some people in the Canadian cannabis law reform movement, this was a surprise to hear - but encouraging. In 2009, Justin Trudeau voted in favour of Bill C-15, mandatory minimum prison sentences for pot, and has even recently made anti-marijuana comments, leaving many confused about where he stood on the issue.

The Young Liberals and other party members worked hard in recent years to get legalization successfully accepted into the party platform, and have no doubt been educating Trudeau about marijuana and prohibition. His decision to publicly endorse decriminalization and even legalization is exciting for activists across Canada.

Because of the perceived flip-flop by the likely Liberal Party leader, Canada's conservative news network Sun TV invited me to talk about his shifting position. Sun TV is certainly no fan of the young leadership hopeful and described him as "wobbly" on the legalization issue.

I explained that Trudeau, and even Stephen Harper, would be wise to embrace the anti-prohibition message because a large majority of Canadians want marijuana to be legalized. Almost three-quarters of people 55 and older, an important voting demographic, want legalization or decriminalization. The people have spoken, and our politicians should listen.

In many ways, politicians are listening - and talking, too. The current federal Liberal Party interim leader Bob Rae has repeatedly denounced the drug war and supports the party's legalization platform. The New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair is mostly silent on the issue, but the party has been working to end prohibition for many years and Mulcair knows it's an important issue to many NDP members. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has always supported legalization and will no doubt continue to do so.


In British Columbia, unfortunately, we haven't seen the same kind of leadership - or even any comment whatsoever - from Premier Christy Clark. Despite previously acknowledging prohibition doesn't work as a radio show host on CKNW, she is now silent on the issue and defers to the federal government's prohibition policy.

With the provincial Liberal party floundering, current Liberal MLA Kash Heed calling for legalization, former Liberal Attorney General Geoff Plant doing the same, and 75 per cent of British Columbians supporting legalization, it's bizarre that Clark refuses to even acknowledge the subject.

But the premier will have to clarify her position sooner or later. Sensible BC, a new provincial referendum campaign to decriminalize marijuana, has been receiving public support, national media attention, and a recent endorsement from the Vancouver Sun editorial board.

The premier will have to say something about marijuana law reform as we head into the 2013 election. With enough encouragement from the citizens of B.C., perhaps she will join the majority and call for decriminalization, at least.


On the federal level, the Liberal Party has taken a pro-legalization position and now the likely potential leader has made his stance clear. Prohibition is an expensive, wasteful, harmful failed policy. That fact is acknowledged not only by activists like myself and my husband Marc Emery, but also many high-profile figures involved with groups like Stop The Violence BC, including former mayors and attorney generals, B.C.'s Chief Medical Officer, the Health Officers Council of B.C., the B.C. Union of Municipalities, the Canadian Public Health Association, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and numerous other organizations and individuals. This is a popular topic.

Justin Trudeau and every MP need to hear from their constituents about cannabis. It's incumbent upon Canadians to demand that our government - which is funded by our tax dollars - stop wasting our precious resources and time on a prohibition policy that the majority of citizens do not support. Hopefully, if the NDP or Liberals form federal government in 2015, marijuana law reform will be discussed and supported in Parliament. Trudeau may be our best hope, but he must continue to endorse legalization.

Canadian history teaches us not to take a politician's word as a commitment. Previous Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien promised to decriminalize marijuana in 2003 and failed to follow through. In August 1970, the Globe and Mail's front-page headline read "Marijuana to be Decriminalized" after Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau's Royal LeDain Commission recommended ending cannabis prohibition.

Forty-two years and two million Canadian marijuana arrests later, we are still waiting for someone named Trudeau to make good on the promise. That shouldn't be hard to do. It's what the majority of Canadians want.

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