Monday, July 29, 2013

Warren Kinsella wrong about Trudeau and Marijuana

The U.S. is our largest trading partner. They are also (historically) protectionist and (presently) nowhere near decriminalization, let alone legalization. If we proceed with Trudeau’s policy, we risk further impeding cross-border trade – something we can ill-afford now, or at any time. Protectionist American politicians will use decriminalization as a flimsy pretext to further slow down and/or stop trade with Canada – not to mention impede visits to the U.S. by Canadians.

Trudeau spoke of legalization. So it odd that Kinsella shifts to talking about legalization to talking about decriminalization. No matter; his point is good as far as it goes. I would add to two things though. One given that marijuana possession is misdemeanor offense or decriminalized in most US States, it would be rather rich, even by the lofty standards of congress, for a critical mass of American politicians to really press for a slow down in the face of Canada decriminalizing marijuana possession. Two, the worry is not that protectionist politicians will use decriminalization or legalization to roll back trade per say as it is that they will try to use them to roll back free trade in one direction. They will want to have their cake and it too and given that the Patriot Act had such an effect, they might feel emboldened. No one is going to use this as a pretext to attack NAFTA.

All that being said, the problem is with Kinsella's whole line of reasoning is that it does not make marijuana prohibition any more legitimate in the eyes of the Canadian people. Support for legalization has been above 50% since 2004 and a recent poll in BC put it at 75% there. In BC the last year 4 attorney generals, a large chunk of the medical establishment, a former police chief, the current mayor of Vancouver and 3 former Vancouver mayors came out in favor of legalization. Support for prohibition has all but collapsed in this province and is quickly collapsing in rest of Canada. It is remarkably cynical of Kinsella to council Trudeau to go on locking up Canadians for breaking a law that Trudeau no longer believes in, that Liberal supporters no longer believe in, that the majority of Canadians no longer believe in and that even he no longer believes in. We as a society should not pass laws or keep others in place simply to placate foreign governments. We as a society should not be enforcing laws that no one believes in. This goes especially for laws that would result in Canadians languishing in jail. 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.

Trudeau’s staff and supporters are claiming that because two U.S. states (including one border state, Washington) have recently decriminalized, that means this is the way to go, or is in some way safe. They’re wrong. Changes at the state level have caused no small amount of confusion, and recently landed a lot of Canadians in legal trouble. And, the last time I checked, it is the U.S. Customs and Border Services that staffs those border checkpoints – not state-level employees.

Kinsella is wrong about a matter of fact. Washington and Colorado did not decriminalize marijuana. They legalized it. It also does change everything. The last time I checked Obama holds the White House and Washington and Colorado are solidly Democrat. Obama has shown no sign of wanting to go to war with two Democratic States over marijuana legalization yet alone a large portion of the Democratic base and it is hard to fathom him ever wanting to. Moreover, this is an issue that has clearly started to tip not only in Canada but also Stateside. Obama is no drug warrior and as with SSM he was will gladly do about face once the issue grows more ripe.

Trudeau’s motivation, perhaps, is to curry favour with young Canadians. There’s no doubt it’s a policy change that’ll be popular with them. There are, however, two problems with his political analysis: one, young Canadians mostly don’t vote. Two, those who do he already has.

Exactly the same argument was made during the SSM debate. Indeed, the issue was much more polarized down generational lines. However, no one today would say that issue was winning issue for the Conservatives. Politics is far more complicated than simply getting on the right side of likely voters. It turns out that once in blue moon -- almost always with regard hot button issues -- arguments do matter and the SSM debate was just such an issue. The arguments offered up by the defenders of traditional marriage were terrible and over time the Conservatives looked stupid trying to hold back the historical tide. The same will be true with marijuana legalization. The potential for the Liberals does not hinge on whether the the majority of likely voters support it. No the potential lies in the fact that as Conservatives MPs trout out reefer madness myths for months if not years on end a good chunk of the population comes to ruthlessly mock them for it.

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