The Greening of Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau
Justin Trudeau: ’I’m actually not in favor of decriminalizing cannabis. I’m in favor of legalizing it.’

Justin Trudeau, the current leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, is trying really hard to replace the pot-hating Conservative leader Prime Minister Steven Harper in 2015. Like his father - the late Prime Minster Pierre Trudeau – he has a way of telling people what they want to hear. He’s good at changing his tune when it suits him. And he’s a charmer.

He recently won a three-round boxing match with a Conservative MP – us Canadians love a good punch-up (just look at the crowd reaction to a Canadian hockey fight). The next target for Trudeau’s pounding fists and rugged good looks seems to be cannabis prohibition.

But even though Trudeau's made statements that lead one to believe he’s the most progressive voice for cannabis law reform the Liberal Party has ever seen, he has given the Canadian cannabis community reasons to be cautious: 1) he still thinks of cannabis – and/or sometimes refers to cannabis - as “inherently unhealthy” rather than a drug that can be used or misused, and 2) his dad had a habit of lying about what progressive steps he was about to take with cannabis law reform, and Trudeau seems to have adopted his father’s “pragmatic” style of politics.

Take his statements in the media over the last couple of days, for example. He has said:

• “I’m actually not in favor of decriminalizing cannabis. I’m in favor of legalizing it.”

• “Tax it, regulate. It’s one of the only ways to keep it out of the hands of our kids because the current War on Drugs, the current model is not working. We have to use evidence and science to make sure we’re moving forward on that.”

• “I have evolved in my own thinking - I was more hesitant to even decriminalize not so much as five years ago.”

• “I did a lot of listening, a lot of reading and a lot of paying attention to the very serious studies that have come out, and I realize that going the road of legalization is actually a responsible thing to look at and to do.”

According to the Globe and Mail, he said that “regulating and taxing marijuana would keep it out of the hands of young people and allow for the development of the medical marijuana industry.”

While this last statement seems to indicate he's aware that cannabis is a medicine, the following quote leads one to believe that he still feels cannabis is an “inherently harmful” medicine that will always end up hurting – as much as helping – the user: “Listen, marijuana is not a health food supplement, it’s not great for you…”

This statement sounds similar to other statements from Trudeau’s recent past:

• “One of the things that pot does is disconnects you a little bit from the world, and it’s not great for health.”

• “It’s not your mother’s pot… I lived in Whistler for years and have seen the effects. We need all our brain cells to deal with our problems.”

Given it’s ability, when used properly, to do everything from shrink tumors in cancer patients to treat various forms of stress and/or depression in otherwise healthy people, it appears that not everything Trudeau is saying is based on “evidence and science” and “very serious studies" - because those studies say that cannabis is “great for you." It can keep you from dying – most people consider that “great."

With the reference to keeping cannabis “out of the hands of young people” because cannabis is “not great for you” because it “disconnects you a little bit from the world," Trudeau is propagating the myth – even popular among some of today’s most prominent pot activists – that cannabis is inherently harmful to young people, despite the fact there are apparently no studies a) that have found a direct causal relationship between negative effects, such as the dropping of I.Q. or increases in psychosis among teens who use cannabis, b) that have found increases in psychosis and drops in I.Q. that mirror the 10-fold increase in the use of cannabis in all age groups between 1950 and today, or c) on the comparative harm to teens of cannabis misuse and typical cannabis prohibition-related harms such as 1) perils of the black market association with criminals, wrongful arrests, injury from arrest and contaminated and/or adulterated cannabis, and 2) punishments such as financial hardships, loss of job or educational opportunities, a criminal record or sometimes even jail.

If anyone's in possession of such studies, please let me know at

Justin Trudeau’s father Pierre – who was Canadian Prime Minister on and off from to 1968 to 1984 -  admitted to using cannabis, and seemed able to use it (and other illegal drugs) with little or no negative effects. “I was in Turkey and these guys invited me into one of the coffee shops and passed the hookah around and I smoked it," he said in 1994. "What was in it, I don’t know, probably some hash. Same thing in India (and) China. I smoked all kinds of things.”

(On the other hand, Justin Trudeau’s mom, Margaret has had her problems with cannabis.)

In the meantime, one must be wary of the Liberal tradition – some might argue the tradition that Trudeau’s father began with the LeDain Commission publishing its “final report” on drugs back in 1972 – of promising reform and then not delivering on those promises. Similar promises were made by the Liberal government and various Liberal representatives in 1975, 1980, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2009 – although most of these were just “punishment switching/enhancement” pretending to be” “punishment reduction."

Still, there is reason to be happy with the change of language from the probable next Prime Minster of Canada – even if he doesn’t deliver on his promises. It's a good sign that he thinks that's where the votes are – it means activists are winning the battle for public opinion and the political parties are publicly admitting it. It could become an election issue in 2015, which is also a good thing. And who knows? Either the public could apply some real pressure on Trudeau to deliver on his promises or perhaps will get so sick and tired of the Liberal track record on this issue that they'll go Green instead.

The Green Party was the first national political party in Canada to support full legalization – and they have done so without unfairly stigmatizing young people or making suggestions that cannabis is inherently unhealthy.

David Malmo-Levine

David Malmo-Levine

Also writes for and operates The Herb Museum in Vancouver, BC.