Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Weed As A Winning Wedge

From my perspective, there was a lot of misguided "scoffing" when the Liberals emerged from their Convention advocating marijuana be legalized. The passage was extrapolated into an indictment of not having compelling polices on issues that "really matter", instead left to champion some quirky side issue that is clearly not top of mind for Canadians. Quite true, I've yet to see "marijuana legalization" on any issue priority poll, although the larger topic of crime does register. Let's take it as a given that Liberals need a whole host of compelling policy positions on the economic, health care, etc to get back into the good graces with Canadian voters. As well, let's not be cynical about a particular policy that can contribute to the wider dialogue, one that can act as distinct wedge and provide a much needed contrast on the crime issue.

If you're paying attention, the Liberals gambit on marijuana is quickly becoming mainstream opinion, rather than some "far out" proposition, it seems nothing more than part of a more general opinion. Last week four former British Columbia attorney generals came out in favour of reforming our marijuana laws. As well, border states like Washington will be voting on marijuana laws this fall, a potentially huge decision, given the concerns about American reaction to potential Canadian reform. Today, more evidence of a changing climate, U.S officials warn the Conservatives on failed drug policies:

A high-profile group of current and former U.S. law enforcement officials has written to the Conservative government with a surprising message: Take it from us, the war on drugs has been a “costly failure.”

The officials are urging Canada to reconsider mandatory minimum sentences for “minor” marijuana offences under its “tough-on-crime bill” and say a better approach would be to legalize marijuana under a policy of taxation and regulation.

“We are … extremely concerned that Canada is implementing mandatory minimum sentencing legislation for minor marijuana-related offences similar to those that have been such costly failures in the United States,” their letter reads. “These policies have bankrupted state budgets as limited tax dollars pay to imprison non-violent drug offenders at record rates instead of programs that can actually improve community safety.”

The letter was signed by more than two dozen current and former judges, police officers, special agents, drug investigators and other members of the advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

I would argue there is a very effective vein to be tapped here, the Liberals can pivot off the Conservative embrace of FAILED American style approaches to drugs and offer a convincing alternative, marijuana legalization the linchpin. There is an emerging consensus that current approaches to drugs are a complete "bust", the Conservative view outdated and regressive. There are economic arguments as well, the subject of cost, the underground economy, once you accept inevitability, even the notion of lost revenues for preferred inputs.

It is not trivial that more and more opinion is coming from south of the border questioning the Conservative approach to drugs. I would guess any Canadian polling on the Americans "war on drugs" would agree with the idea of complete failure, which again speaks to the soundness in challenging that viewpoint. The Conservatives may use crime as an effective wedge to curry favour, but on the topic of the "war on drugs" there is a vulnerability, particularly when we speak of "importing" failed policies. The fact American states are rethinking their view on marijuana undercuts the historical fear of retributions, should Canada look at marijuana in a progressive way, the old caveats are subsiding. American opinion is changing, as are many state laws, the climate is much more receptive.

I don't believe advocating marijuana legalization can be the singular issue which captivates Canadians and returns the Liberals to the electoral promised land. That said, a sound house is made up of bricks, each plays a structural role that gives overall identity and form. When you speak of winning "coalitions" of voters, I would submit marijuana legalization can play a contributing role, rather than dismiss, a look at the emerging landscape shows an idea who's time has come and will find increasingly useful allies moving forward.

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