Legalization of Marijuana Now a Distinct Possibility

I just returned from the 2012 Liberal Biennial conference in Ottawa, where a number of policy resolutions were passed. One which has received considerable attention is Priority Policy Resolution 117, which passed with 77% of the vote. The text of the resolution reads:

117. Legalize and Regulate Marijuana
WHEREAS, despite almost a century of prohibition, millions of Canadians today regularly consume marijuana and other cannabis products;
WHEREAS the failed prohibition of marijuana has exhausted countless billions of dollars spent on ineffective or incomplete enforcement and has resulted in unnecessarily dangerous and expensive congestion in our judicial system;
WHEREAS various marijuana decriminalization or legalization policy prescriptions have been recommended by the 1969-72 Commission of Enquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, the 2002 Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, and the 2002 House of Commons Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs;
WHEREAS the legal status quo for the criminal regulation of marijuana continues to endanger Canadians by generating significant resources for gang-related violent criminal activity and weapons smuggling – a reality which could be very easily confronted by the regulation and legitimization of Canada’s marijuana
BE IT RESOLVED that a new Liberal government will legalize marijuana and ensure the regulation and taxation of its production, distribution, and use, while enacting strict penalties for illegal trafficking, illegal importation and exportation, and impaired driving;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a new Liberal government will invest significant resources in prevention and education programs designed to promote awareness of the health risks and consequences of marijuana use and dependency, especially amongst youth;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a new Liberal government will extend amnesty to all Canadians previously convicted of simple and minimal marijuana possession, and ensure the elimination of all criminal records related thereto;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a new Liberal government will work with the provinces and local governments of Canada on a coordinated regulatory approach to marijuana which maintains significant federal responsibility for marijuana control while respecting provincial health jurisdiction and particular regional concerns and practices.
Young Liberals of Canada
Liberal Party of Canada (British Columbia)

The theme of the conference was evidence-based policy and featured a plenary talk by Munir A. Sheikh, the former Chief Statistician at Statistics Canada who championed the long-form census.

However, policy resolutions passed by delegates are not binding on the Party executive, especially since a constitutional amendment which would have removed the leader’s veto powers was not removed,

(2) The National Policy and Platform Committee is responsible to:

(a) provide a forum for members of the Party to have their say and influence the policies and platform of the Party;
(b) coordinate the policy development process in all provinces and territories with a view to maintaining a current written statement of the policies of the Party (the “Party policies”) that will, together with contributions from the Leader and the Caucus and subject to the approval of the Leader, form the basis for the platform of the Party for use in the next general election (the “Party platform”);
(c) establish written procedures for the policy development process and publish those procedures on the public website of the Party;
(d) maintain an up to date compilation of the Party policies on the public website of the Party; (e) subject to the veto in whole or in part (including a veto line by line) by the Leader, draft the Party platform and, upon its release during an election, publish the Party platform on the public website of the Party

Veto powers are relevant because decriminalization of marijuana has passed at previous Liberal conventions but was subsequently excluded from the Party platform. The role of the leader in supporting this resolution should then be important, but interim leader Bob Rae has thus far expressed support in his closing speech, adding,

Let’s face up to it, Canada, the war on drugs has been a complete bust.

Leadership though will now be determined not just by party membership, but also by a new class created by another constitutional amendment, called “supporters,” a free mechanism for participation within the party for those over 18 that support the purposes of the party, is qualified to vote, and is not a member of any other federal party,

54 Call of Leadership Vote

(2) If the Leader publicly announces an intention to resign or if the Leader delivers to the National President a written resignation or a written request to call a Leadership Vote, then the Leader ceases to be the Leader on the earlier of the appointment of an Interim Leader and when a new Leader is elected by the supporters members of the Party.

(7) The person appointed as the Interim Leader may exercise all the powers of the Leader under this Constitution until a new Leader is elected by the supporters members of the Party.

56 Leadership Vote procedure
(1) The Leadership Vote is a direct vote of all supporters members of the Party who have a right to vote on the Leadership Vote weighted equally for each electoral district in Canada and counted in accordance with this Section.

Because these non-member supporters will help choose the leader in March-June 2013, they may have direct input into whether the legalization of marijuana becomes part of the official Party platform. Candidates will likely be expected to express their positions on this issue during the race.

Also of relevance is that the current official opposition does not have decriminalization or legalization of marijuana in their policy platform, and the leading party is unlikely to include it given their “tough on crime” rhetoric.

If the proposal has a broad enough interest among the public it could help reinvigorate the Liberal Party through these new supporters, but conversely could mobilize opponents to either work against it within the party, or seek to prevent its passing through support of the other major parties. Either way, nobody can say that the Liberal Party of Canada, which never before in its history has been in third place status, is irrelevant to the Canadian political scene.


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