The first policy difference to be highlighted in the media in this 2017 Conservative Leadership race is an interesting one; I would have thought we'd be discussing tax policy or national defense first, but apparently, it's going to be marijuana, dope, weed, whatever you want to call it. A Nanos research poll in February found 68% of Canadians favour legalizing the drug, with strong majorities in all provinces, from a low of 55% in the Prairies to a high of 75% in BC, people are done with prohibition.
Our new Liberal government has promised to legalize marijuana for recreational use, but has provided no details or timeline on how it plans to do so; but we can expect a bill to this effect to come from the government benches at some point during this term. How our Conservative caucus reacts will largely depend on whom we choose as our new leader.
Kellie Leitch, the first Conservative candidate to register for the leadership race (Though she insists she's only formed an "exploratory committee) seems to be trotting out the same old tired arguments that lost us the last election. As recently as February 25th, 2016, she was railing against the Trudeau government, accusing them of giving access to marijuana to children "Now, the government wants Canadian kids to have access to a drug to smoke – marijuana" when there is clearly no evidence to that effect and no indication that children would be any more able to get a hold of marijuana than they are able to get a hold of cigarettes today. If this is the best argument Leitch can come up with against legalization, she's building her campaign platform on some very shaky ground.
Positioned opposite her is Maxime Bernier, the only candidate to officially be in the running, Bernier has spoken several times recently about marijuana legalization stating that "I'm open [To legalization], and I want to see the details of that legislation before voting for or against it, I hope I'll be able to vote for it, I think if you have a good regulation that can control sales of marijuana, the details are very important when you speak about that, and it is why I cannot say today if I will vote for or against that bill, but I hope the regulation will be based on what's happening in other countries and I hope I'll be able to vote for that, Canadians are ready for that." Clearly stating that he's ready and willing to help implement marijuana legalization sets Bernier apart from the former government's record and shows that he's on side with the majority of the public. It also shows his ideological consistency, a conservative libertarian, Bernier knows that the government has no business telling people which plants to smoke. He's also showing that he's willing to work with the Liberals on important issues, not simply play the sort of angry "Oppose everything" politics that some seem eager to engage in.
The consequences of the drug war have been felt far and wide across this country, too many families have been broken by it, too many innocent young people incarcerated. Over a million Canadians have been arrested for simple possession of Cannabis, countless lives ruined, largely at random, based on who gets caught and who gets away. (Spoiler alert, you're more likely to get caught and charged if you're part of a visible ethnic minority.) It's past time for the Conservative Party to denounce this legacy and move forward with marijuana legalization. Though we should have a free vote when the Liberals bring forward their bill to legalize cannabis, we should have a leader who's ready to work with the Liberals to implement the best legalization program possible, not one who wants to score minor political points at the expense of everyday Canadians who happen to enjoy recreational marijuana.