Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a shrewd political decision when he promised to legalize the use of marijuana in the last election. It made him look hip and no doubt delivered many votes and helped him gain power. Since the October 2015 election though, the messages from the federal government have pointed in the opposite direction.
First, former Toronto Police Service Chief Bill Blair was appointed the pot czar, overseeing the Liberal’s legalization. Being handed this high profile file was likely a consolation prize for not making it to cabinet. Regardless, according to statistics provided by the Toronto Police Services, during Blair’s decade as Chief, the number of pot-related arrests jumped from 1837 the year he became Chief, to 5610 in the first 10 months of 2013. His appointment raised eyebrows – he sure doesn’t look like the progressive kind of guy to handle this issue. His defenders blame former Prime Minister Harper’s tough on crime mentality for the charges. That’s a weak answer. Prime Ministers can’t order Chiefs of police to charge people. And the police always have a discretion not to charge.
Blair was absolutely apoplectic in his reaction to the TPS raids on 43 Toronto pot dispensaries, leading to the arrest of 90 people. He told the Globe and Mail that “the current licensed producers are competing with people who don’t care about the law, who don’t care about regulations, don’t care about kids, don’t care about communities, don’t care about the health of Canadians. They’re reckless about it. And so they’re selling anything to make a fast buck before we get the regulations in place.” That tongue lashing sounded more like Chief Blair, not so much like a government Member of Parliament tasked with freeing up marijuana sales.
Second came former Health Minister Ann McLellan’s appointment to head a panel on marijuana. The spin on her appointment was that she is the only minister to have held the three relevant portfolios: Attorney General, Health Minister and Public Safety Minister. If that spin wasn’t enough, one industry representative said “it’s a good source in terms of someone with an understanding of all three departments.” Does having good knowledge of bureaucracy trump being forward-minded and committed to following through on the Prime Minister’s pledge?
17 years ago, in early 1999, another Health Minister, Allan Rock presciently stood up in the House of Commons to announce that he had tasked his officials with developing a plan to include clinical trials for the medical use of marijuana, guidelines for medical use and the development for safe access to supply. As soon as McLelland replaced Rock as Health Minister, she halted the review. Again, a track record that runs against what she now tasked to do by the federal government.
Meanwhile, the federal government’s prosecution department, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada hasn’t hesitated in zealously prosecuting even the most minor of cases, despite the fact that in places like Vancouver and Victoria, the only way to get arrested is “to light up in a police station,” according to NDP justice critic Murray Rankin.