Until the Jan. 23 federal election, the campaign to legalize drugs in Canada seemed unstoppable. The Chretien-Martin Liberals, whose values were formed in the free-love, pot-smoking 1960s, had already legalized “medicinal” marijuana, opened a government-contracted pot-growing facility and sanctioned a heroin shooting gallery in Vancouver. A Liberal bill to decriminalize marijuana possession was also working its way through Parliament.
Yet, on April 3, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made it clear that his government will no longer tolerate the “hippie” agenda of the previous regime. “When it comes to drugs, police officers and parents agree: we don’t need more of them on our streets,” he told the Canadian Professional Police Association.
The legal drugs agenda is now officially dead. Harper affirmed he’s “not re-introducing the Liberal government’s marijuana decriminalization legislation.”
He continued, “The increase in the production and distribution of hard drugs is well documented. And if we legalize drugs like marijuana, it will make it easier for our children to get hold of it. That is why my government is opposed to legalizing drugs — especially because of the damage it can do to our cities and our communities because of increased addiction and crime.”
Instead, the Conservative government aims to get drugs off the streets by ensuring that mandatory minimum prison sentences and large fines are given out to marijuana grow operators and drug dealers.
The federal about-face on marijuana has led to immediate consequences, especially in Ontario, where police have started pursuing common possession charges against pot-abusers, after turning a blind eye for several years.
While the Harper government’s new drug policy is undoubtedly a matter of principle for the Conservatives, one likely benefit is an improvement in Canada-U.S. relations. The American administration has long made it known it is concerned about the increased potential for drug smuggling should marijuana possession become legal north of the 49th.
Closer to home, those in charge of administering public health dollars are also breathing a sigh of relief. Marijuana abuse is more harmful and costly to the healthcare system, on a per person basis, than cigarette smoking which, ironically, the federal Liberals spent hundreds of millions of dollars attempting to suppress.