Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Kudos to the Young Liberals

I have no direct stake in Canada's War on drugs. As a teetotaller whose strongest recreational drug is caffeine, I have no interest in smoking a joint (and have a track record of declining offers) and find the whole idea utterly distasteful given the value I place on attachment to reality. Nevertheless, Canada's failed War on Drugs still enrages me - partly because of how utterly detached it's proponents are from reality. So, I was quite pleased when I heard that the Liberal Party of Canada's adopting a resolution calling for the legalization and regulation of marijuana.

 The move is remarkably out of character for a party's that played the dead centre (to death) for quite some time. It's been the traditional role of other parties - like the NDP or the Greens1 - to come up with and push for innovative public policies before the Liberals steal the ideas and run with them. Nevertheless, being reduced to third party status really changes a party's outlook and the overall political dynamic2. For a party whose caucus has been reduced to a 34 MP rump, it's too risky not to take risks.

Federal Liberals are taking some risky departures from the cautious political norm in a bid to put their once-mighty party back on the electoral map.

Sunday, they overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for the legalization and regulation of marijuana -- a position immediately endorsed in principle by interim leader Bob Rae, although it remains to be seen how, or if, the resolution translates into a platform plank for the next election.

"Let's face up to it, Canada: The war on drugs has been a complete bust," Rae declared in a closing speech to a three-day Liberal renewal convention.

Until now, Liberals have called only for decriminalization of marijuana, as has the NDP. The new call to legalize it completely and regulate its production and sale, much as with alcohol, is in stark contrast to the policy of the governing Conservatives, who included stiffer penalties for marijuana possession in their omnibus tough-on-crime bill.

("Legalize weed, Grit delegates say". Winnipeg Free Press. Jan. 16, 2012)

While Rae's passionate denounciation of Canada's failed War on Drugs (or, rather, war on people who use them) is nice to hear, it would've even been nicer to hear of the Liberals tabling actual policy changes while they had back-to-back majorities.

Rae told delegates it makes no sense "to send another generation of young people into prison" for marijuana offences when "the most addictive substances that are facing Canada today are alcohol and cigarettes."

Though they were willing to take some risks, delegates balked at a resolution calling on Canada to consider cutting its ties to the monarchy, an idea that would open a constitutional can of worms.

Both the marijuana and monarchy resolutions were put forward by the party's youth wing, which argued the Liberal party needs to advance bold ideas that are more reflective of young people if it is to revive.

"I think that there's a certain amount of generational change happening in the party," said Samuel Lavoie, president of the Liberal youth wing.


The marijuana resolution is not binding on the leader or party. Delegates specifically rejected a proposal to remove the leader's veto over the contents of future election platforms, so there's no guarantee the party will ever actually campaign on legalizing pot.

Under Jean Chr├ętien's government, the Liberals introduced legislation to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a ticketing, rather than criminal, offence.

The bill was not pursued when Paul Martin took over the helm of the party and the Harper government has since dropped the idea entirely, moving in the opposite direction.
 Okay, this might just be a cheap gimmick (given the lack of any actual binding to follow through and the history of Liberal inaction on this issue). Nevertheless, I have congratulate the Young Liberals for actually getting the War on Drugs and Canada's vestigial connection to Britain's old aristocracy into the national conversation. Maybe there's hope for the Liberal Party after all. 

1 The Liberals took the NDP's predecessor - the CCF's - idea of publicly funded universal healthcare and adopted NDP ideas like pension indexing. The Liberal Government's 2005 Budget was even considered Canada's "first NDP budget" given the impression negotiations with the NDP left on it. Stephane Dion's ill-fated "Green Shift" was long preceded by Green Party calls for a carbon tax. 

2 One need only look in Manitoba, where Liberal leader Jon Gerrard pressed for adoption rights for same-sex couples a full year before the (less innovative, more cautious) NDP government tabled the bill to see how a change in relative position radically alters a party's strategy.


  1. If your argument against Marijuana amounts to "The Americans wont like it and it'll make the border more difficult to cross", as a certain conservative supporter on a national radio call in show said, then you have no argument whatsoever. legalize it, tax the hell out of it. I hate the way Marijuana smells. I hate how the smell lingers. I hate interacting with potheads, but that's not enough to justify sending people to jail for possession. It's not enough to justify criminals ruining houses just to grow the stuff hydroponically when it could easily be a cash crop. I despise American policy in most things, because its really not policy, it's policy for sale to the highest bidder. If drug companies or chemical companies pay off the right people. Not sensible at all. If the Liberals and the Conservatives are more or less equal, and the only difference was the marijuana legislation, I could see the Liberals regaining power under the right leader.

  2. Sad thing is that in 2007 Gary Doer accepted that pathetic non-argument.


  3. I think every society needs to adjust to ensure laws are compliant with societal needs. Marijuana has served as nothing more than a "social yardstick" to determine who does or who does not puff. That being said, the widespread use of the product by every rank and file member of society has (in my opinion) created an "obsolete" law. Prohibition serves little purpose and keeps the product linked to criminal activity. Its time to adjust this law (and a few others) through regulation and legalization.

    i think the liberals will garnish a lot of support and perhaps even mobilize a segment of the population historically absent from ballot boxes.

  4. When you say "I have no direct stake...." you mean, you don't buy it, so it doesn't affect you, right?

    Except for the of sponsoring organized crime in your neighborhood; the sub-culture swirling around you and yours; the kids wearing socially tattooed 'criminal' brands socializing with your kids; the zillions of dollars of your money spent to promote organized crime (what I call my grown-up view of the war on drugs, follow the money...)

    Except for those things, I'm with ya.

  5. I said "direct stake". Those things are "indirect stakes" - everyone's, of course, affected by the power marijuana prohibition gives to gangs seeking to participate in an oligopolistic black market to make enormous profits.

    Yeah, marijuana does act as a "social yardstick" in US at least - it determines whether you're rich enough to get away with smoking it (drug usage arrests are predominantly conducted in poorer neighborhoods in the US, despite similar usage levels in affluent areas).