The new Tory plan to target marijuana is aimed squarely at suburbanites, particularly, in Vancouver in the 905 belt and in the outer suburbs of Montreal and unless the Liberals do an about face on the issue it is going to work to the Conservatives advantage. The Liberals current policy of decriminalization plays right into the Conservative hands.
The problem is this. The Liberals have long maintained that Canadians should not be saddled with a criminal record for consuming something that is, after all, less harmful than alcohol. It is this light that Chrétien famously joked about having a joint in one hand and the money to pay for the fine of having it in the other. “I will have my money for my fine and a joint in my other hand.” At the same time as they have downplayed the affects of smoking marijuana they have stressed the importance of stiff penalties for trafficking. Taken in isolation such bipolar position has a certain superficial appeal. However, the Liberal policy of decriminalization is inherently incoherent; it is political position; it is an attempt to appeal to both sides of the political divide at the same time and it will not take too much time and effort to show how conflicted the Liberal position is. Indeed, image how ridiculous it would have sounded if this is what Chrétien said? “I will have my money for my fine and a joint in my other hand. Having paid my fine I would hope the cops find the person who sold it to me and put him in jail for a very long time.” This is essentially the Liberal’s current position. The problem is if it not already obvious by now that if the act of consumption is not deemed overly ruinous then the whole punitive rationale for trafficking comes crashing down. Add to the mix an acknowledgment that marijuana can serve a medical purpose and you have a conceptual train wreck as a policy.
All of this plays right into the Conservatives hands. The public is concerned about the growing number of grow ups and wants something down about it. The Conservatives not only promise action, but are going to blame the Liberals for the increase in grow ups. They are going to say that the Liberals have long sent out mixed messages about marijuana. This has led to increased demand for the product and as a consequence an increased number of grow ups to meet the demand. In order to boaster their case the Conservatives are going to force feed the Liberals their own words. One can count on them repeatedly bringing up the Chrétien quote and probably the 2002 senate report will be referred to but not quoted. Incidentally, I do not know if it matters to Harper and crew that such go hard approach will prove disastrous for the country. The Conservative position is first and foremost about politics.
Now, back in July Ontario’s marijuana possession laws were struck down by Judge Borenstein. Should the Ontario government loose its appeal and or the other similar discussions follow, the Conservatives will also launch new campaign a new campaign against “activist judges”. Such a campaign will not be aimed so much at suburbanites as the Conservatives social conservative base. Where he can, Harper will get his digs in about the Liberal senate and the 2002 report that recommened legalization.
The Liberals have only one effective counter. They can propose to legalize marijuana. They would then be in a position to actually use the senate report rather than having to look downward at the floor whenever the Conservatives mention it. I consider it very unlikely that the Liberals would be so bold though. I hope they prove me wrong.