Much has been written about the decision of Liberal delegates -- fully 77 per cent of them, actually -- to endorse a policy championing the legalization and regulation of cannabis in Canada at the party's recent biennial convention in Ottawa. However, the significance of this move for the party goes beyond the policy itself.
Certainly, the logic of legalizing a substance that is both less toxic and less addictive than alcohol and tobacco is quite straightforward. What needs to be noted, however, is how this policy can fit in to a more comprehensive strategy through which the Liberal Party can rebuild its big tent on both sides of the political spectrum.
The Conservative Party has demonstrated with ease -- particularly in its pursuit of votes from Canada's ethno-cultural communities -- that it is possible to employ different but non-contradictory messages to win the support of different segments of the population. What is so important about the adoption by the Liberal Party of this new marijuana policy is that it can be strategically employed to do just that.
The Liberal Party needs to brand itself unambiguously as being the only political party in Canada that is both socially progressive and fiscally responsible. Winning over the left with this policy shouldn't be very difficult -- it simply needs to be sold as being part of a comprehensive effort to scale back the war on drugs and to generate revenue for the government (through regulation of the substance) that can be used to invest in social programs for Canadians in areas that are currently lacking.
However, what is rarely noted is that this policy can also appeal to the right and can hence unite left and right under a common political banner, advancing the cause of national unity. Legalizing marijuana means we'll be spending time and resources chasing real criminals so we can truly ensure safe streets and communities. Such a vision is both smart and tough on crime. Additionally, the revenue generated through the resulting regulation can also be used to reduce business and personal taxes as well as to pay down debt.
Furthermore, no political party right now is advancing a clear vision to increase the individual liberty of each and every Canadian. If the political rise of the late Jack Layton is any indication, Canadians are looking to be inspired. What they want is a vision. Liberals need to provide that vision. After all, the words "liberal" and "liberty" share the same root.
Increasing individual liberty means more than just having the right to smoke pot. It means having a country with its fiscal house in order so that future generations aren't burdened with debt, unemployment, and inflation.
It also means have a government with access to enough revenue so it can address both the international threats and the societal issues of the future, allowing each and every Canadian to be free from harm and free to reach his or her true potential -- the key pillars of classical and social liberalism respectively.
Legalizing and regulating cannabis -- a move that would result in a net gain of billions of dollars for the government -- is a great way to start populating this comprehensive vision for increased freedom with bold, progressive, and exciting policies.