Federal parties weigh in on legal pot debate

Canada’s three major opposition parties agree: It’s time to reform Canada’s pot laws – though they all have their own take on how that ought to be done.

The federal Liberals were the first to make a declarative stance that Canada needs to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana.

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“We don’t think this war on drugs has worked,” said Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, Liberal candidate for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country.

A recent World Health Organization report noted that Canada has the highest teen usage of marijuana, something that would likely go down if it were better regulated, Goldsmith-Jones said.

“Right now, it’s easier to get a hold of marijuana than cigarettes or alcohol for minors,” she said. “We’re trying to address that because we want to keep young people healthy. We think legalizing marijuana is the best way to keep it out of the hands of children and to keep the proceeds from funding criminal activities.”

Goldsmith-Jones said the exact model for how marijuana would be sold legally would be determined in consultation with the Canadian people.

“We have to have a public debate. Right now, we have not been able to do that,” she said

The NDP’s campaign is promising to decriminalize simple possession of the pot, but their plan stops short of full legalization.

“(Decriminalization) is something we can do immediately and we don’t have to work with the provinces to do it,” said Carol Baird Ellan, NDP candidate in Burnaby North-Seymour and a former judge. “Our view is no one should be criminalized for simple possession. They shouldn’t have a criminal record. ... It’s something where the penalty is unnecessary for those kinds of issues.”

As for what happens next, Baird Ellan said it would have to be studied.

“We’re going to look at what is the best approach. We’ve talked about striking an independent commission, talking it out with the provinces, and studying the issue,” she said. “We obviously need an approach that removes it from the current situation in terms of organized crime being involved in supply.”

The Green Party’s plan not only includes legalization, regulation and taxation but also estimates on how much money the government could rake in as well as how to spend it.

“Our party makes decisions and policies based on a pragmatic approach to issues and based on science and expert advice,” said Ken Melamed, West Vancouver candidate. “The war on drugs has failed. We lost the war on drugs.”

Money raised from the sale of pot would go to fund “the rebuilding of the country,” Melamed said.

“Within four years, it could be around the $5-billion mark and that doesn’t include the savings to the Canadian economy. We know that there’s millions of dollars in law enforcement still being spent on trying to keep fighting the war on drugs that will be saved.”

No one from any of the North Shore’s three Conservative campaigns made themselves available for an interview. The Conservatives brought in mandatory minimum prison sentences for people caught growing as few as six pot plants, though that law was struck down as “cruel and unusual” by the Ontario Supreme Court early this week.

The Conservatives issued a press release on Friday promising a re-elected government would continue to combat illegal drugs.

“Our national anti-drug strategy is working,” South Vancouver candidate Alice Wong said. “But there is much more that needs to be done to combat drug use, particularly among youth.”

The party is promising to set up a toll-free phone line for parents concerned their kids are into drugs; direct the Canadian Mental Health Commission to focus on the link between substance abuse and mental health; and increase funding for the RCMP’s meth lab and grow-op enforcement.

An Insights West poll released this week found 65 per cent of Canadians favour full legalization compared to 30 per cent who oppose it.

“I would say the Conservatives are completely out of step with prevailing attitudes,” said Neil Boyd, SFU criminology professor.

Boyd said Canada’s pot laws are still enforced, although it varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

“You’re 25 times more likely to be stopped in Kelowna as in St. John’s, or about six or seven times more likely in Kelowna as opposed to Victoria,” he said.

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