After nearly a decade in power, Stephen Harper has resigned as leader of the Conservative Party after Canadians voted for change and swept the Liberal Party into power. Exceeding expectations, the Liberal Party secured a clear majority outright, without the need to form a coalition government. Voters in our neighbor to the north voted for a clear progressive agenda that includes ending cannabis prohibition. Marijuana legalization advocates rejoiced across North America, looking forward to a sensible cannabis policy in Canada.
Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau has called for implementing legalization quickly, but it will be very interesting exactly how cannabis commerce will be regulated. Trudeau has pledged to move on legalization right away, but noted that it could take a year or two to implement. Trudeau’s director of communications, Kate Purchase, did state that Colorado was a model that the party was considering. As Canada develops the rules and regulations for cannabis commerce, hopefully the country will move forward with ending criminal penalties for personal possession, cultivation and sharing of cannabis.
The new prime minister provided a stark contrast with his predecessor on many issues, including cannabis legalization. While Trudeau admitted to using marijuana in the past and the Liberal Party made legalization a part of its platform. Trudeau was clearly more in line with the people of Canada as a recent poll found that over 56% support legalization; about 30% favor decriminalization; and less than 15% want to keep marijuana illegal. Harper, who declared marijuana “infinitely worse than tobacco” and supported prohibition, was clearly out of step with the Canadian people. While many people try to downplay the importance of cannabis policy in national politics, a candidate’s marijuana policy says a lot about his or her priorities and understanding of science.
With the Liberal Party securing 184 seats, more than the 170 needed to control a majority and the New Democratic Party, which supports decriminalization, marijuana legalization should be implemented without much political resistance. In the past, the Liberals have backed down from implementing national decriminalization under pressure from the Bush Administration. The Canadian government is unlikely to get any pressure from the Obama Administration since the United States federal government is currently letting states proceed with their own marijuana policies.
Legalization in Canada will likely speed up marijuana law reform in the United States and across the globe. When the sky doesn’t fall in Canada and the nation generates new revenue and creates more jobs, more states will have evidence to pass legalization measures, putting more pressure on Congress to allow states to legalize without restrictions. Uruguay has chosen to end cannabis prohibition and other countries, such as Mexico, may legalize cannabis soon as well. Just as cannabis legalization has spread state to state in the United States, we will see similar momentum around the world.