Canada’s new pot-friendly prime minister has signaled police should continue to arrest people for marijuana possession despite Ottawa having already taken its first steps towards legalizing the drug.
“The laws haven’t changed yet,” Justin Trudeau said during an interview with News 1130 this morning (March 1). “Pot is still illegal in this country and will be until we bring in a strong regulatory framework.”
News 1130's Reaon Ford subsequently asked what Trudeau would say to a teenager stuck for life with a marijuana charge on their record, and whether marijuana could be decriminalized on an interim basis, until a regulatory framework allows for full legalization.
“I think decriminalization is a bad idea because it doesn’t do anything to make it more difficult for young people to access it and it doesn’t do anything in terms of keeping the black market and the criminal organizations from profiting from it,” Trudeau replied. “That’s why I believe in control and regulation that actually will do the protection of public safety and of minors that we need. And in the meantime, it’s still illegal.”
In the run up to the October 2015 election, the Straight published a three-part series that explored the differences between Trudeau’s plan to legalize recreational marijuana and the competing NDP’s plan to stop short of legalization and only decriminalize the drug.
That series presented criticisms of the NDP’s plan, explaining that only decriminalizing marijuana would leave the supply side of the market in the hands of organized crime. Alternately, it suggested that while fully legalizing marijuana would be a more complicated process, it was preferred to decriminalization because it would see the supply of marijuana regulated and taxed by the government.
Every independent advocate for marijuana reform quoted in that series told the Straight they favoured legalization over decriminalization. However, several suggested that decriminalization could happen on an interim basis, as the legalization process could take several years to complete.
More recently, one of Canada’s leading activists for marijuana reform called for Ottawa to immediately place a moratorium on arrests related to the possession of cannabis.
“As the government moves to legalizing marijuana, it is unjust to continue arresting people,” Jodie Emery told the Straight in January.
Trudeau’s March 1 comments echo remarks made on February 24 by Bill Blair, parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice and former Toronto police chief.
“The laws that currently exist in this country are in force and in effect and it’s important that those laws continue to be obeyed, upheld, and enforced,” Blair said at a forum on marijuana legalization.
On the campaign trail in August 2015, the Straight asked Trudeau if a Liberal government’s plans for marijuana reform would include releasing people from prison.
“That’s something that we’ll be looking into as we move forward,” Trudeau said in response. “There has been many situations over history when laws come in that overturn previous convictions and there will be a process for that that we will set up in a responsible way.”
On February 26, Buzzfeed Canada reported Blair had said Ottawa was not considering granting pardons.
“That is not currently under discussion,” Blair was quoted as saying. “It is not being contemplated at this time.”
The Buzzfeed article does not specify if that means pardons for past marijuana offences have been ruled out or if amnesty remains an option the federal government could consider in the future.