Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Marijuana: Liberal Canary In Coal Mine

An overwhelming majority, 77% of committed Liberal delegates voted to legalize marijuana. As well, if you do the math on the demographic delegate breakdown, you'll find that even if one assumes every young Liberals voted in favour, you are still left with almost 2/3rds of the remaining delegates in favour. In other words, no matter how your dissect this vote, Liberals of all subsets support this policy, creating a firm resolve. In addition, not only did our interim Leader resist shying away from the vote, Rae embraced it and placed legalization at the center of "war on drugs" debate.

Liberals rejected the idea of removing a leader veto over policy, so the future party structure philosophy remains unclear. However, I now view the marijuana issue as the canary in the coal mine so to speak, how this issue is treated heading into the next election will provide the clearest indication if a formerly top down entity has truly "renewed" and "reformed". The base have made their voices heard, a voice which is not out of step with progressive society as a whole. It is fair for EVERY Liberal to now have an expectation that marijuana legalization will be part of future Liberal policy, should that fail to transpire, people can rightly ask if members are nothing more than robotic bank machines, patted on the head, but nothing of real consequence in the affairs of party direction.

There has been some mention of actively soliciting "supporters", using this issue as a lure of sorts. I agree with an aggressive strategy, as Rob Silver pointed out this is a classic "wedge" issue, one the Liberals can use effectively to contrast crime strategies, as well as certain libertarian issues. The marijuana issue is larger than just pot itself, the tentacles of that approach resonate elsewhere. I think Liberals may well shock themselves at how many "supporters" can be attracted, simply based on this particular perspective. This is a way for non-partisan Canadians to say "hey Liberal Party, I agree with you, I SUPPORT your idea, I'll lend my name to the cause".

Moving forward, it is imperative to hold the Liberal Party to account, to push the envelope, to push our new executive to follow through on their commitments. How the Liberals manage the marijuana issue is now a central indicator that will demonstrate, in concrete form, if this has truly become a member-centric institution or remains a timid, top down affair, wherein the rank and file are dismissed in the ways that truly matter. I'm leaving the banner on the sidebar as symbolic of this potential future tension, the members who have kept this listing tub afloat have spoken, loud and clear.


D said...

If I were able to attend, I would have voted against this. I think that from a domestic policy perspective, smart-on-crime approach, it makes sense. But in the North American context vis-a-vis our trade w/ the US, it might not. Is potentially jeopardizing our already shaky border security, not to mention the bureaucratic costs, associated w/ Canadian legalization worth the potential revenue gains? Would these gains be offset from slower export trade due to (anticipated) greater boarder security?

Not only that, I feel like the move will be framed as gimmicky and out of touch w/ the concerns of Canadians by the NDP and CPC. I think that stuffing it deep inside a platform, like the CPC did with their Office of Religious Freedom, would make sense and careful wording to possibly expand legalization "within the context of North American drug enforcement strategy" gives the party a way out of any blow back in an election that puts focus on cooperation across the continent and highlights the merits of smart-on-crime rather than recreation and gov't revenue.

Lastly, a delegation of 3,000 hardly speaks for all members. I didn't have the $ and therefore I couldn't go. I think alongside the national leadership vote, voters (supporters and members) ought to choose 3 of 5 (or 6) preselected issues or positions advocated by the party that resonate with, or matter to, them most. That's called legitimacy.

Steve V said...

"Not only that, I feel like the move will be framed as gimmicky and out of touch w/ the concerns of Canadians by the NDP and CPC."

Dylan, polling consistently shows the Canadian public is ahead of the politicians on this issue, so your point about "gimmicky", I don't get at all?

As for a wider vote, I'm all for more direct input from ALL members, but for you to discount the delegates at this convention is a confused notion, which seems to be borne by nothing more than your personal position concerns.

calgarygrit said...

At the very least, this motion passing guarantees that every Liberal leadership candidate is going to have to take a position on it.

Steve V said...


Perhaps more intriguing, one candidate may use this as a vehicle to pick up "supporters". Fascinating days ahead...

rockfish said...

Free Marc Emory!

Steve V said...

Timely poll, 2/3rd support legalization, again demonstrating this position is completely in tune with MAINSTREAM Canada:


D said...


I consider and reflect upon Harper's and the CPC's election tactics when I say that making legalization of marijuana a critical plank of a LPC election platform would make things seem "gimmicky". I imagine seeing an election being framed by the CPC as one in which voters will choose between, "Growing our economy and moving forward into prosperity" against the NDP's "tax and spend" agenda and the Liberal "up in smoke" campaign to legalize pot.

Is this really something that the CPC WOULDN'T consider? It's about party narratives and election framing. I think making too much of legalization puts us not only at an electoral disadvantage when clearly the economy and health care are #1 and #2 issues for Canadians (and potentially more so for health post 2014). That being said, I can see how this new (and by new I mean old) policy in favour of legalization could easily become backburner stuff in 3 years.

As for the implications legalization may have on trade and US relations, you seem to have little concern.

Further, there's no "bad blood" between me and what the delegates voted for/against. I'm very pleased with the direction taken at the convention. I would disagree w/ this one area and I think that, generally, conferences through the delegate system are less than optimal avenues for deciding policy-directions in a day and age when technology makes soliciting opinions effortless.

Steve V said...


One, we have to stop framing ourselves based on Conservative attacks. Two, you are reacting as though this is a fringe position, I just posted another poll that shows fertile ground, particularly when you look at the demographics of support and WHO votes. I just don't see the boogeyman here, it looks as though the country is quite willing to have this conversation. It's an issue everyone understands and has discussed, fear mongering will meet rational indifference. The "war on drugs" has failed, discuss... I'm not afraid and it gets us into the crime conversation, we have a pivot and we're already attacked anyways.

I'm just not worried....

Vancouverois said...

While this policy may be supported by a majority of Canadians, it's hardly something you can use as the basis for the next campaign. It's at best a peripheral issue: if you want to make any kind of comeback, the Liberal party is going to have to do a lot better than that.

Steve V said...

Wow, who is suggesting this is the path to our problems solved? Funny.

liberal supporter said...


D said...

Vancouverois, agreed.

"Wow, who is suggesting this is the path to our problems solved? Funny."

Again I agree -- it isn't.

"fear mongering will meet rational indifference"

Are the rationally indifferent motivated to coalesce around the LPC on a policy that is already advocated for by the GPC and by Jack Latyon and the NDP in the last election (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3f5PIfzw-s&feature=share)? In retrospect, is the LPC, by getting on the bus in respect to popular opinion on pot, newsworthy for anybody?

Again, hype for this policy proposal by the media and is undermining more important stuff that went on in Ottawa two days ago.

Vancouverois said...

@Steve V: Nobody said that, not exactly. But you did say:

"The marijuana issue is larger than just pot itself, the tentacles of that approach resonate elsewhere. I think Liberals may well shock themselves at how many 'supporters' can be attracted, simply based on this particular perspective. This is a way for non-partisan Canadians to say 'hey Liberal Party, I agree with you, I SUPPORT your idea, I'll lend my name to the cause'."

I think that's still overly optimistic.

Steve V said...

I fully expect will we sign up supporters because of this issue, of that I have no doubt. That isn't optimistic or pessimistic, nor does it have anything to do with larger challenges.

Koby said...

Dylan It is not a question of if marijuana will be legalized in the US it is matter of when.

Proposition 19 failed, but the issue will likely be revisited in 2012 and this time it stands a very good chance of passing. Voter turn for mid term elections is always significantly less than when the presidency is up for grabs. For proposition 19 to have stood any chance of winning Democrats, and the young needed to be energized. They were not and stayed away in droves. Even with everything stacked against them, though, the yes campaign still garnered 46% of vote.

A yes vote would kick start a debate stateside that would wipe out any legitimacy prohibition has left in vast swaths of the country. So, while it is likely that a yes vote would likely be contested by whomever is president in 2013, the response is likely to be muted. This will be especially so if Obama wins. Obama is not going to go to war with the biggest State in the Union and one that is heavily Democratic to boot.

Obama's ability to push back would be limited for other reasons as well. He freely admits to having marijuana in the past ("I inhaled frequently. That was the point") and his marijuana use is not a part of some redemption narrative, a la George Bush. It was a path he choice not to continue going down. Drug use was never presented as a demon he had to overcome yet alone one he still struggles with the way an alcoholic does with drink. This would leave him open to the charge of hypocrisy. Far more importantly though, the war and drugs, especially with regard to marijuana, has had a profound impact on the African American community in the States. If Obama was to toe the standard line in the face of California promising to end the war on drugs, he would be in a world of hurt politically. The African American community would not, of course, abandon him, but they would be unhappy and their unhappiness would have the potential to throw his whole relection campaign out of whack politically. His whole message of being the candidate of change would be called into question.

Finally, it was Obama that set the wheels of legalization in motion in the first place by declaring that he would not crack down on medical marijuana. For you see, unlike in Canada, in California, for example, one does not have to be afflicted with a particular aliment to be eligible for medical marijuana. A doctor can proscribe marijuana for whatever they see fit. Needless to say, such a system is ripe for abuse and the Bush administration was right to see medical marijuana program as a potential Trojan horse. But Obama let the wooden horse to be wheeled into California and other States anyway. In so doing, Obama has allowed the medical marijuana industry in California and elsewhere to grow to the point there is no saving prohibition from Odysseus. There are more medical marijuana dispensaries in LA than Starbucks.

Steve V said...

Another poll released today, this one of Americans, showing a similar trend, albeit behind Canada:


Koby said...

The notion that American prohibition would stand if Canada were to charge ahead with marijuana legalization is wrong. Not only would Canadian boldness create a tidal wave of domestic debate State side, but should Canada have the guts to go through with such a move various European countries (e.g., Spain, Portugal, Italy and the Netherlands) Australia and Latin America, Mexico in particular, would soon follow Canada's led. The international dominos would start falling one by one. This in turn would further embolden domestic proponents, especially those in California.

That said, even it that was not the case, arguing that Canada should tailor its drug policy to US wishes is problematic. The problem is US threats do not make marijuana prohibition any more legitimate; it just means that Canada is tailoring its own laws to meet the demands of Americans considered so illegitimate that popular cultural considers them a symptom of madness “refer madness”. This is not healthy. Any perception that Canada is enforcing laws to met with illegitimate demands of a bullying third party, whoever that may be, is simply poisonous to the health of a functioning democracy.

Steve V said...

"Not only would Canadian boldness create a tidal wave of domestic debate State side"

I doubt American border states would agree with tying up the border further over this issue, in fact, given the economy they are clamoring for faster passage. People recall the far right Bush era confronting Chretien on this issue, I see a new window now and the poll I cited suggest growing support on the other side.

Koby said...

Just look what kind of impact Canada's decision to legalize SSM had and magnify it 10 fold. The Canadian decision emboldened liberal America. Legalizing marijuana would also do that but it would also embolden the legions of libertarian Ron Paul types who plenty of uncomfortable with SSM and abortion, but want to see marijuana legalized.

Jerry Prager said...

As someone who writes on organized crime, the pot position should become part of a larger discussion on how to extract organized crime from our economy: especially traditional family based mafia, mafiya,triads etc. Truth and reconciliation processes with family elders and penitents; trust funds to preserve families while extracting most of the crime monies from their banks. Tackling the rackets of slavery and indentured servitude around the world, drugs for arms sales, the relationship between capital and crime in big business, crimes against humanity around the world committed in the name of corporate greed, all of it.

liberal supporter said...

I'm not a pothead though my single letter comment and the fact I didn't check after commenting might indicate otherwise. My comment was:

The CPC will try to spread fear but most people know pot is not crystal meth. The slippery slope was tried when a Conservative government ended prohibition of alcohol in Ontario, but we still do not allow over 40% alcohol for general sale. That Conservative government also gave us the LCBO, which would ensure product quality and consistency and keep it from being sold to minors, since "save the kids" was a mantra of the temperance people.

As for the US, if it is a far right nut in charge we'll have border problems no matter what we do short of anschluss. Otherwise, we will have more police resources to devote to hard drugs like cocaine and crystal meth. Plus, note that Seagrams et al were once illegal in the same way the pot growers are now. Once they were brought in from the cold, they were regulated and though they certainly did ship demon rum over the border, all their output is regulated and monitored so the point of diversion to the illicit market can be more easily found. They will actually help in this, since it is now in the own interests. They'll want to be good citizens hoping for the day the US market does open up.

We'll work hard to keep the pot from crossing the border when the US government works equally hard to stop the pistols flowing this way.