A Liberal resolution to legalize marijuana at the party’s recent policy convention is getting high praise from a number of pro-pot groups, who say the move could make millions of dollars for Ottawa.
Samuel Lavoie, president of the Liberal youth wing, said that coming out in support of marijuana was an intentionally bold move to push discussion forward on the issue.
“We were expanding the debate,” Lavoie told CTV’s Power Play in Ottawa on Monday.
Lavoie said that the mood over legalizing marijuana has shifted over the past years, as the public has become increasingly critical of the “war on drugs” in the United States, Mexico and Canada.
While the previous Liberal government under Jean Chretien moved to de-criminalize cannabis before backtracking in 2003, Lavoie said that going a step further could be more beneficial “because it allows for more regulation (and) allows for more tax revenues.”
The latest Liberal pot motion passed with 77 per cent support, which Lavoie admits was a better showing than he expected.
But there has been some concern among critics that taking such a strong stance on the illegal drug could leave the Liberals open to attacks from the Conservatives.
But Lavoie said he’s not concerned about being branded as “soft on crime” from Tory critics.
“I’m not going to lose sleep over it … If the Conservatives are going to call us soft on crime, perhaps we should call their policies dumb on crime.”
The federal government has recently locked horns with some provincial leaders over the recently passed national crime legislation, which aims to impose stiffer sentences, including mandatory minimums, for some offences.
Quebec and Ontario, in particular, have balked at the idea of paying for the increased costs associated with longer jail terms.
Meanwhile, according to the Beyond Prohibition Foundation, legalizing pot would mean big revenues for the Canadian government.
“We’re talking about $400 million (that) is spent every year arresting just about 50,000 (people) — plus or minus a few thousand people, depending on the year — and that’s just for possession,” said Jacob Hunter, who heads up policy at the Vancouver-based group.
He told The Canadian Press that all the offences across the country really add up.
“It goes up to 80,000 when you factor in trafficking and production. So we’re talking about $400 million in savings on the possession side and then about $2 billion in revenue, assuming a whole number of variables,” he said.
“It gets a little complicated on the revenue side, because you have to figure out what the usage rate is, what the tax rate is, etc., etc. But it’s a net gain for the government of about $2.4 billion.”
But Barry MacKnight, the police chief of Fredericton, said legalizing the drug is a bad idea.
“The evidence is very clear. Marijuana is not a benign drug by any stretch of the imagination. It has harmful impacts and we’re focused on building safe, strong healthy communities.”
MacKnight, who is also vice president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, noted that police forces remain focused on organized crime and those that profit “from trafficking.”
“The person who is smoking the joint in the back ally is not our focus,” he said.
Instead, MacKnight said that education and prevention are key for drug users, and he stressed a balance between enforcement, prevention and education.
“I haven’t seen a government that’s got that balance right, yet. Hopefully we’ll all continue to work on that.”