Next week Canadians go to the polls and elect a new Prime Minister. I want to preface this by telling you to take this article with a huge grain of salt. Federally, cannabis isn't even on the radar or a debate point this year (as one of the members of our Twitterverse put it: The Liberals don't have enough to brag about and the Conservatives don't have enough to criticize).
In the last provincial election Doug Ford was supposed to be the best candidate for cannabis: Private businesses like ours, with experience and expertise would be able to finally sell cannabis legally. I have a theory that his poor execution is simply to make the Liberal legalization look like a fail (and licensing will pick up again after the election so the Conservatives can appear as though they saved it).
I am happy to fill you in so you can use this as a piece in the puzzle, but I encourage you to further research the platforms of each candidate to get the whole picture. Save some time and do this quick quiz from CBC to find out where your personal priorities align with each party this year (I was VERY surprised at my results!):
Here is what the major party leaders have said about cannabis, the law and drug reform this year:
Andrew Scheer: Conservative Party
Historically, our businesses have thrived when cannabis was most illegal--when federal Conservatives were in power. Stephen Harper (or Lego-Hair as I affectionately have referred to him) introduced legislation that made tougher punishments for people growing cannabis (mandatory minimums of 6 months) than possession of child pornography (mandatory minimums of only 3 months). The omnibus crime bills and overall "tough on crime" stance was proven in court time and time again to be unconstitutional and cruel and unusual punishment. Would Scheer take the same approach? Well in fact Andrew Scheer has said that he would keep cannabis legal. His home province has over 300 legal stores and counting and cannabis is on the stock market so he couldn't put the toothpaste back in the tube if he wanted to. He has also stated that he would support pardons for Canadians convicted of cannabis possession. Sounds pretty Liberal to me!
That's where the similarities stop, though. Scheer has said that the Conservatives WOULD enact mandatory minimums for drug traffickers. In terms of harm reduction the Conservatives plan to take a more passive approach, to help drug users with "recovery and prevention" (whatever that means) and increasing education among young people. The Conservatives are firmly against safe supply, do not support Safe Consumption Sites, and do not believe in decriminalization (which to me says they don't really understand the problem or how to solve it). Other than refusing to release an actual platform until last week (not a joke), and lying about his citizenship and professional history (to seem more like a working man and less privileged I guess?) I wouldn't want to see a backslide in policy or even just maintaining the status quo that we would likely see with the Conservatives in power.
Elizabeth May: Green Party
Elizabeth May has been rightly critical of legalization up to this point saying in a press release “A year after the passage of the cannabis legislation, it’s clear that many of the government’s approaches are wrong. Legalizing cannabis was long overdue but the subsequent rollout has failed.” On behalf of the Greens she has said she would want to lower the federal cost of cannabis (does she mean the excise tax? She didn't really explain that--Licensed Producers, provincial suppliers and stores all set their own prices). She also wants to reduce excess plastic packaging on cannabis products (which is great) and remove the tax for medical cannabis (a step in the right direction, but should be covered by provincial coverage). Seemingly confusing provincial requirements with federal requirements she has also wants people to be able to grow outside (we already can in most provinces--in BC it just has to be reasonably outside of public view and in QC their grow ban is working its way through appeals court).
Speaking of growing Elizabeth May has said that we should be removing some red tape and lowering security requirements in grow facilities that lead to increased electrical and water consumption in dealing with pest and disease issues (which would in turn lower the cost of cannabis overall). She believes that cannabis producers should be growing in open fields. She said “Tobacco is a drug but farmers aren’t forced to grow it in underground bunkers. We should be growing cannabis in open fields, fed by the sun and the rain.”
Elizabeth May has made some really progressive promises by declaring opioids a public health emergency and strengthening core community services that deal with harm reduction (like safe consumption sites and safe supply). She also wants to save lives by making Naxolone kits widely available and increasing funding for mental health and addiction services. She even said that she wants to decriminalize all drugs but then had a change of heart and said she wanted to recriminalize all drugs once we saw decriminalization was working (which tells me she doesn't understand the point of decriminalization at all and is just hitching her bandwagon to it for a popular progressive vote). Some Green supporters have said she has flipped back again, saying drugs would remain decriminalized but I haven't been able to find any article that shows her saying this.
Justin Trudeau: Liberal Party
Since the Liberals were elected and legalization has been introduced, we have been punished more than any other time in our careers (2017 was the worst year of our life). I felt personally attacked by the Cannabis Act (call me a #triggeredsnowflake): No animals as mascots (Quincy is now retired and Harry has been demoted to Head of Security), windows must be covered so children can't SEE bongs or other accessories, seeds count as cannabis (and there would be no selling without a license), one seed equals one gram, and so on (plus even more restrictions from the now unseated provincial Liberals). Justin Trudeau pretended to consult with key stakeholders like patients and activists but then ignored it all and pushed through what they thought was best anyways.
It felt like legalization was just a gimmick for the Liberal party, that they didn't really understand the undertaking but wanted a good voter turnout, and that Trudeau had just watched one too many episodes of Real Time with Bill Maher. But we didn't care who legalized or how it was done. Legalization was long overdue, so we had to support them for it (regardless of how we would vote in subsequent elections). Now that they have introduced legalization 1.0 and 1.1 with extracts and edibles their mandate is to maintain the status quo and see their plan through. While they are not interested in expungement of cannabis records they have introduced legislation to pardon simple possession of cannabis. At first they were going to make pardons available only for simple possession of under 30 grams, but later on the 30 gram requirement dropped somewhere in the language. Only 42 of these pardons have been granted so far. I am personally in the last stages of this process so I'll let you know how it goes, but I have been working on it all summer and had to follow up multiple times with local police who didn't seem to have any clue about what to do with the paperwork.
In terms of the opioid crisis and harm reduction, while the Liberals are in favour of scaling up community based safe injection and other harm reduction programs and safe supply, they are not in favour of decriminalizing and still want drug treatment court for first time offenders (assuming they first plead guilty). As someone who went through the court process in 2017 for simple possession (as a medical user) I was shocked to see how terribly inefficient our court system is for drug users. It was the same faces every month--going to court was a sentence in itself. Additionally, in the vain of total redundancy, they want the RCMP to be used for drug smuggling cases instead of Canada Border Services Agency (officers who are specifically tasked with this). The status quo is not working and it is time for a change.
Jagmeet Singh: NDP
In the last federal election I didn't vote NDP because I couldn't get behind just decriminalizing cannabis--it seemed like a half measure. Speaking of half measures, the NDP have been highly critical of the cannabis pardons process. I can get behind the NDP wanting full expungement of records for simple possession. Additionally, the NDP have called to remove the excise tax on medical cannabis for patients (just like the Greens). The NDP also feel like the Liberals are taking their sweet time getting legalization rolled out and that we should have had edibles and extracts legalized and available ages ago. Provincially in BC however, the NDP have received a lot of criticism for their roll out of cannabis stores there (seems like provincial leaders just can't win with us).
Like the Greens, the NDP are willing to declare the opioid crisis a national health emergency and want to decriminalize all drugs. They did stop short of saying they would push for safe supply, they do support safe consumption sites and want to expand treatment. The NDP also called for Canada to investigate and take legal action against opioid manufacturers. From a judicial perspective, the NDP are only willing to reduce reliance on mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug offenders (instead of repeal completely). Even worse, they want to follow suit of the Conservatives and get "tough" on those who traffic in and profit from illegal drugs (no word on whether they mean they will be "tough" on places like Tweed and CannTrust or over-prescribing doctors or if it is just what they think a "drug dealer" is).
Has legalization been perfect? Of course not. When alcohol prohibition ended if you wanted a bottle of booze you would write your order on a paper and slide it across the counter to a clerk—there was no self serve. We think they have taken the worst of tobacco laws, the worst of alcohol laws and the worst of pornography laws to come up with cannabis laws. There is a lot of room for improvement but we had to start somewhere.
How will we vote next week? We are cripplingly undecided--I am seemingly more progressive than the Liberals and even NDP on many issues. I felt like the Greens would for sure have my support if they didn't make the dumb comment about recriminalizing drug use after the crisis is solved. Either way, our priorities when we go to the polls next week will be focused on which candidate wants to improve the laws we have. We are looking for the candidate that says “Look, it hasn’t been perfect but this is where we go from here.” We do not want to elect the party that will maintain the status quo or worse, add more red tape to cannabis stores and Licensed Producers. This cannabis portion is just a piece of the puzzle, so we encourage you to do some more research beyond this information and vote with your heart next week.