Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is following through on his 2015 pledge to legalize and regulate the adult use of cannabis. Presently, Liberal Party backed legalization legislation is making its way through Parliament, which hopes to implement the new public policy by mid-2018.
But, as Toronto Star reporter Susan Delacourt writes, Trudeau was not always a supporter of marijuana policy reform. In fact, it wasn’t until he met face to face with NORML representatives that the Canadian Premiere ultimately changed his mind for good.
[Excerpt] When marijuana becomes legal in Canada next year, it will be mainly because Justin Trudeau had a change of mind in 2012.
… Five short years ago, Trudeau was not a fan of legalized pot. As he wandered around the 2012 Liberal policy convention in Ottawa — the same one in which a majority of party members voted in favour of legalization — Trudeau was a dissenting voice.
He told one interviewer that marijuana “disconnects you a little bit from the world” and that it was “not good for your health.” For those reasons alone, Trudeau said he wasn’t in favour of any measures that could make pot use more widespread.
“I don’t know that it’s entirely consistent with the society we’re trying to build,” Trudeau said in an interview that still lives on YouTube, where it’s immediately clear he hasn’t had his run-for-leadership makeover: he still sports a moustache and the long, unruly hair.
By the end of 2012, a lot of things had changed for Trudeau — beyond his appearance. He had changed his mind about running for Liberal leader, officially launching his campaign in October, and he was also starting to see that legalization was better than the decriminalization option he’d long favoured.
Today, Trudeau and his advisers trace the shift to a meeting with two women in his office in November of that year, who armed him with some of the pro-legalization arguments that he’s still using today — now, as prime minister. The two women were Kelly Coulter and Andrea Matrosovs, then representing what was known as the women’s alliance of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Coulter, who now lives in Victoria, remembers the meeting well, and is heartened to hear that Trudeau traces his conversion to this encounter.
“I actually saw the ‘aha’ moment,” Coulter says. It had been an emotional meeting in Trudeau’s tiny Parliament Hill office; the three of them talked about their own personal experience with marijuana. Trudeau talked about his mother using pot, and his brother, Michel, who had been charged with possession not long before he died. (Trudeau has subsequently told the story publicly of how his father used connections to get the charges dropped so that his son didn’t have a criminal record.)
Coulter told Trudeau flatly that decriminalization would not keep gangs and organized crime out of the marijuana business. “Al Capone would have loved it if alcohol had only been decriminalized,” she said — a line she often used when talking to politicians.
“I saw the light go on in his eyes,” Coulter said. “He was seeing this as a politician, realizing ‘I can sell this,’ ” she recalled.
Trudeau could see how this argument would blunt Conservative attacks on him as being soft on crime; with legalization, he could simultaneously seem liberal about marijuana but conservative about gangs and criminals. It helped persuade Trudeau that legalization, would be the best way for the government to regulate its use and keep it safe, especially for kids.
As we approach NORML’s upcoming National Conference and Lobby Day — taking place September 10-12 in Washington, DC — it is important to emphasize how influential a single face to face meeting with your elected officials can be. NORML’s interactions with lawmakers, whether its at town meetings or in the halls of Congress, are changing minds and shaping public policy.
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