Elliot Ferguson | The Kingston Whig Standard
Next month’s federal election could be historic for proponents of marijuana legalization.
With the country’s three main political parties all taking distinct positions, which party forms the next government could determine what happens to the nation’s marijuana laws.
“This is our election, this is the most important election on this topic in recent memory,” said Craig Jones, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Canada.
The organization discarded its traditionally non-partisan stance this year and is encouraging people to vote for politicians whose parties support relaxed marijuana laws.
The Liberal party wants to legalize marijuana.
The New Democratic Party supports decriminalizing marijuana and then studying options for regulating it.
The Conservative party opposes decriminalization or legalization and passed harsher sentences, including mandatory minimum sentences, on marijuana traffickers.
Medical marijuana user Jennawae McLean, a co-owner of 420 Kingston, said this election is different because the leader of a party that has a chance to form government is in favour of legalizing marijuana.
McLean said NDP leader Tom Mulcair’s decriminalization stance is good, too, but added he is “pussyfooting around the real issue.”
McLean said the Conservatives are missing an opportunity to tap into a new and lucrative tax revenue source.
“Legalizing opens up a whole economy and decriminalizing just doesn’t get you in trouble for it anymore,” she said. “It’s not the most progressive step and it’s definitely not the most fiscally responsible step.”
In Colorado, where marijauna was legalized in 2012, a 10% sales tax and 15% excise levy on marijuana sales generates tens of millions of dollars to fund schools.
“If (the Conservatives) were smart, they would take it up as an issue,” McLean said. “It’s hilarious that they want to say they are fiscally conservative but still spend as much money as they do on jailing innocent pot users, non-violent drug offenders.”
An article in this month’s edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggested prohibition of non-medical marijuana has failed and cannabis could be legalized and regulated in ways similar to alcohol and tobacco are governed.
“If Canadian policy-makers decide to create a legal, regulatory framework for cannabis, it is critical that public health objectives be the foundation of changes,” the CMAJ article stated. “Otherwise, Canada may experience the same health and social harms that resulted from the commercialization of alcohol and tobacco. The Canadian public would likely support a model that has public health as its primary goal.”
Jones said he would like to see regulations preventing aggressive marketing of marijuana, especially to young people.
While marijuana remains prohibited by the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, Jones said police departments have adopted a more relaxed approach to enforcement and prosecutors in the United States have lowered the priority of cannabis charges.
The chances of a major change in Canada’s marijuana laws are made greater by changes made in the United States, Jones said.
Several states, including Colorado, Alaska, Washington and Oregon, and Washington, D.C., have already relaxed their marijuana laws, and Jones said he expects a vote on the issue in California in 2016.
A presidential election in the U.S. also creates a political opportunity.
“American politics creates a window of opportunity for Canadian politicians to act with some courage,” Jones said.