Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff Should Make Marijuana Policy a Priority

It’s time for Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff to start treating the prohibition of marijuana and other drugs as a serious political issue.

The Leader of the Official Opposition, who at first said that legalizing marijuana would create problems with our American neighbours, in September suggested the Liberal Party will reintroduce legislation to decriminalization possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Conservatives MPs attacked Ignatieff in the House of Commons a few days later, and the Liberal leader has been quiet about the issue ever since.

When I asked the Liberals for a comment a few months ago, they told me that Ignatieff would not be making an official statement, but that I could ask him a question in person at one of his “Open mike” townhall meetings.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch up with Iggy myself – but luckily, at his meet-up at a Richmond, B.C. secondary school in November, a student asked him what he thought about Proposition 19, the California ballot initiative to legalize pot that narrowly failed in 2010.

Here’s how Ignatieff responded (Listen to the MP3 – starts at 16:02):

This is marijuana isn’t it? (Laughter) I had a kind of idea that question might come up, I don’t know why.

Look, I won’t – Let me be serious for just a second. I don’t want any young person’s life ruined for being arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana. I don’t want your life to be – I don’t want you to get a criminal record for that. And if we have to make changes to the criminal law to make that possible I will do so.

But I’d like us to be thinking about something else than marijuana to be frank. It’s not a priority.

I don’t want your life to be ruined by an arrest and a criminal record but boy I’d like you to be thinking about something other than marijuana, like getting a great university degree, getting a great job when you’re out. I just think that the focus on marijuana gets us into the wrong sense of priorities.

Our priorities ought to be, you know, living a good life, getting a good education, helping our parents, getting a good job, having a good family; and sometimes we get focused on the marijuana issue and I think we miss what our real priorities ought to be.

A few days ago in Belleville, Ontario, Ignatieff was again asked about marijuana. A local paper described the interaction:

A lighter moment came in the night when a young man asked Ignatieff his views on decriminalizing marijuana. The man noted the government could receive taxes on marijuana which, in turn, would help the country’s economy.

Though the question generated laughs from both Ignatieff and the crowd, the Liberal Leader said he doesn’t want to see young people’s lives destroyed by convictions for possession of small amounts of the drug.

However, he said, he is also a father and he does have a tough view on drug use.

“I don’t see it,” he stated bluntly.

It’s great that Ignatieff is not backing down from his comments on decriminalization; the imprisonment of thousands of non-violent Canadians is a terrible consequence of the drug war – but it is not the only consequence.

Like the prohibition of alcohol some years ago, the prohibition of marijuana and other drugs leads directly to the creation of organized crime and gang activity. As Ignatieff and the Liberals join their Conservative counterparts in criminalizing the production and distribution of drugs, the gangs who thrive on the illegal market grow richer and stronger.

Just look at Mexico, where despite the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, cocaine and heroin, the drug war rages out of control, killing more people than the war in Afghanistan – with the number of dead innocent civilians up by 172% in the last 12 months.

Ignatieff should also recognize that thousands of Canadians suffering from debilitating diseases who use cannabis as medicine do see the issue as a priority. Many of these legal users have been left without their licences due to Health Canada delays, leading to raids, property damage, and other hardships.

In a political climate where the Conservatives are pushing mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana offences and getting prepared to load-up expensive new prisons with potheads, I’m thankful the Liberals are at least moving quietly in the opposite direction. It seems to me, however, that by attempting to trivialize the marijuana issue, Ignatieff is missing a great opportunity to really stand up and differentiate himself from Stephen Harper, as well as do the right thing.

Jeremiah Vandermeer is editor of Cannabis Culture. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Jeremiah Vandermeer
Jeremiah Vandermeer

Jeremiah Vandermeer is Cannabis Culture Chief of Operations and Editor of Cannabis Culture Magazine & Pot TV.

Comments

9 Comments

  1. Anonymous on

    Ignatieff and Harper’s fate nowadays should be like that of Mubarak in Egypt. Canadians are fed up of empty promises and inaction.If Mr.Vandermeer thinks that because it is Ignatieff he will do something about marijuana, I think you just smoke a little too much yourself You ough to be out of your mind sir to write such an inepty.

  2. Anonymous on

    SOMETHING needs to change. For some of us, it IS a priority, and can HELP US to have a good life, a good job… to be pain free….

    It is such a contradiction, to allow a PATIENT to have it as a prescription, although it is not legal… and to TAX it??
    More so that the synthetic THC pill is covered in the Canadian Pharmacare program, yet the actual marijuana is not.

  3. Dave on

    Looks like most think Iggy is also a joke. I suppose either way our politics is being Americanized. Conservative or liberals doesn’t matter they are becoming different arms of the same government.

  4. Anonymous on

    I too have written Micheal Ignatieff and the Liberal Party of Canada several times in regards to this issue. At least a few of you have had the decency of a response, albeit a form letter response which says nothing at all. The Liberals do not treat this issue seriously. In fact, they are backing Harper and the Conservatives on the minimum/mandatory sentencing. If you are up on this subject, then you already know that almost all of the Liberals voted in favour of Bill C-15, which basically was Bill S-10 before the Great Dictator prorogued Parliament in December 2009. Of course, the Bill had to be scrapped due to the proroguation then.
    It is now back on the table as Bill S-10. If they voted for it before, then why would they not once again? They absolutely will vote for this Bill. The NDP and the Bloc MP’s were the only ones that voted unanimously against the old Bill C-15. This speaks volumes. Jean Chretien and Martin Cauchon promised that they would decriminalize cannabis before Paul Martin took the helm. For some reason, it was then put on a back burner. Well, we all now see what has happened. We have now gone backwards at least 50 years. Ignatieff could care less about prohibition, thus the laughter and snickering every time it is brought up. He could care less that Marc is in a US prison. He could care less. As usual, Ignatieff has thrown his support behind Stephen Harper. Mr Ignatieff is not a leader. He’s barely a follower. He needs to grow a pair and stand up to Harper on this issue, although it looks like it may already be too late, and these form letters which he is issuing are a joke.
    It is up to the ‘grass roots’ movement to keep applying pressure. Talk about this issue. Blog about it. Get it out there, and keep it out there. Otherwise, Mr. Harper will be loading up his new jails with the many, many Canadians who enjoy coming home after work and having a relaxing puff of a very wonderful plant. This certainly will not be the caring, compassionate Canada that most of us know and love. It will be anything but that. The fact is, Ignatieff has already shown is cards, and he’s folded.

  5. Spaceman Spliff on

    I received an identical email as this. I wrote to Iggy expressing my concern and this is what I got in return. What a vague email. Between the email and Iggy’s responses as read in Jeremiah’s blog post, essentially it seems as though the Liberals have no real drug policy plans. They’re likely waiting to see what the Conservatives do next and where S-10 goes from here. If the Liberals were elected next term their drug policy would likely only involve making the penalties and sentences a little softer. I.e- Undoing some of what the Conservatives are trying to do right now.

  6. Dave on

    AFTER SENDING THIS EMAIL, IGGY-POPPED OUT THE SAME FORM LETTER!

    Dear Honourable? Mr. Ignatieff:
    Looks like all of you Liberals ever do now-a-days is support the Conservatives.

    So Sir, tell me why should we vote for the Liberal Party? Chretien was going to decriminalize 30 grams then Martin watered it
    down to 15. Now you are supporting Bill S-10? So what gives?

    Tell me Sir, what is now the Liberal policy when it comes to Cannabis in Canada?

    If the Liberal Party doesn’t get some credibility soon, you’ll most likely end up like the Conservatives under Kim Campbell’s watch!

    Every time we see you politician celebrating you are always walking around with glasses of alcohol. So tell me Sir, do you
    support putting us in jail for choosing cannabis as a healthier choice? Tells us Sir, have you been educated or have
    you been brainwashed?

    This is important to us, so please get back to me.

    LOOK AT THIS! THREE WEEKS LATER, THE EXACT SAME LETTER: IT FEELS LIKE HE JUST SPIT IN MY FACE!

    Dear Sir/Madame:
    On behalf of Michael Ignatieff, I would like to acknowledge receipt of your recent email regarding Bill S-10, the Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act.

    Significant evidence relating to this legislation has emerged since this bill was introduced, as a result, members of the Liberal Caucus intend to conduct extensive study in the House of Commons. We believe that strong drug laws are part of what is needed to fight gang violence, but equally important are crime prevention initiatives and the proper funding of law enforcement agencies which is where the Harper Conservatives are failing Canadians.

    As with his entire agenda, Stephen Harper’s focus is only on sentencing – he does nothing to promote community safety, to address drug addiction in a meaningful way, or to actually reduce crime. While we support taking measures to reduce gang-related violence, we worry that this is an example of the Conservatives emulating the failed drug policies that were unsuccessful in the United States.

    Thank you for taking the time to write to the Leader of the Opposition.

    Sincerely,

    The Office of Michael Ignatieff
    Leader of the Opposition

    ALL POLITICIANS ARE THE SAME; STEEL, LIE AND CHEAT THERE WAY TROUGH LIFE. And they want to put us in jail, WOW!

  7. Anonymous on

    This is Iggy’s response to a serious email regarding bill S-10.

    Dear Sir/Madame:

    On behalf of Michael Ignatieff, I would like to acknowledge receipt of your recent email regarding Bill S-10, the Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act.

    Significant evidence relating to this legislation has emerged since this bill was introduced, as a result, members of the Liberal Caucus intend to conduct extensive study in the House of Commons. We believe that strong drug laws are part of what is needed to fight gang violence, but equally important are crime prevention initiatives and the proper funding of law enforcement agencies which is where the Harper Conservatives are failing Canadians.

    As with his entire agenda, Stephen Harper’s focus is only on sentencing – he does nothing to promote community safety, to address drug addiction in a meaningful way, or to actually reduce crime. While we support taking measures to reduce gang-related violence, we worry that this is an example of the Conservatives emulating the failed drug policies that were unsuccessful in the United States.

    Thank you for taking the time to write to the Leader of the Opposition.

    Sincerely,

    The Office of Michael Ignatieff
    Leader of the Opposition

    I mean, talk about a bunch of waffle … on the one hand we say no, on the other hand we say yes … we are strong on drug laws but we don’t want to hurt anybody. The Liberals are trying so hard to stay on the fence on this one they are going to end up with a picket up their collective behinds.

    I can guarantee that if the Liberals were in power that nothing would change. What they all ignore is the immense human suffering that is caused by prohibition.

    It’s not the drugs stupid!

    It’s the prohibition!

  8. Anonymous on

    Iggy is just another typical politician. He completely misses the point that the issue of Cannabis prohibition is about human rights and the principles of democracy and justice, not about whether getting high is a productive activity or not. If any government or international body, like the UN, can arbitrarily dictate that something which is not inherently harmful to individuals or society is now an offense on the level of robbing or killing. If they had some kind of factual justification for doing that then it might not be such an affront to intelligent and civilized people. As long as you can be legally thrown into prison, the ultimate deprivation of your innate right to freedom, with no other justification than the flimsy and bogus claim that Cannabis increases the incidence of schizophrenia, there is no justice in the world, period. Apparently Ignatieff doesn’t think that’s anything worth being concerned about.

    Igg writes a lot of books but he sure doesn’t do much in the way of actual thinking. The fact that he invariably laughs every time the word Cannabis or marijuana is mentioned in his presence shows his lack of comprehension of just what Cannabis prohibition really says about a country and the UN. Next time he breaks out in a giggling fit when asked about such a serious issue maybe somebody should ask him which of the people who are in agony and can’t get the proper medication or who are being caged like an animal because of Cannabis prohibition he is laughing at. The guy needs to be woken up about the fact that Cannabis prohibition, and Cannabis itself, is far from a laughing matter or a joke. Ask him if he has any relatives who have medical problems and what they are. Then when he tells you, break out laughing. See how he likes it, the heartless arrogant b*stard, and make sure it’s on camera so everyone in Canada can see it. Bet he won’t laugh so hard after that.