NDP Leadership Candidates Want To End Canada's Drug War

CANNABIS CULTURE - Candidates for Leadership of the NDP were unanimous this week in their support for ending the drug war, according to a survey released by Vancouver based End Prohibition: NDP Against the Drug War.

The survey, released on the heals of a new Federal Liberal Party policy calling for legalization, and new polling showing two-thirds of Canadians support legalization/decriminalization, demonstrates the new political consensus in Canada: the drug war has failed, it's time to regulate marijuana.

“What we see here is a major shift in Canadian politics, where there is wide acknowledgement that the drug war has failed, and that a non-criminal, regulatory approach has unanimous support among the opposition parties,” said Dana Larsen, executive director of the organization. “The question is not should we end the war on marijuana, but rather when we do, what should the regulation look like? Meanwhile Stephen Harper is waging a war on marijuana that 88% of his own base doesn't support. It's well past time for an adult discussion on how we can better deal with this substance. ”

The End Prohibition survey also covered topics such as supervised injection site facilities and the Conservative omnibus crime bill. There is broad consensus among the NDP leadership candidates in support of expanding safe injection site and other harm reduction facilities into major urban centres, and against the provisions of the Conservative Omnibus crime bill. The Conservative omnibus crime bill, opposed by all opposition parties, the majority of Canadians, the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, as well as the vast majority of academic researchers, has catalyzed support against the Conservative crime ideology. End Prohibition was particularly encouraged by the replies from Niki Ashton, Romeo Saganash and Peggy Nash, all of whom said they supported moving past simple decriminalization to a legally taxed and regulated model for cannabis access.

“Simply put, Canadians do not want to increase penalties for marijuana, they do not want to continue to waste money jailing people for a handful of marijuana plants for personal use, and they want to see alternatives to this costly and unjustified war Mr. Harper is waging on marijuana and harm reduction” Larsen said. “We have seen Harper's ideology play out in the United States over the past 30 years, and it's been a complete and total failure. It has not curbed drug use, it has not made streets any safer, and it has cost hundreds of billions of dollars. That is the road Stephen Harper is taking our country down. I am encouraged that the NDP Leadership candidates are taking such a strong stand against Stephen Harper, and standing up for evidence-based policy on crime”.

The Survey

End Prohibition is a national group of New Democrats working to end the prohibition on marijuana and stop Canada's failed war on drugs.

Founded in 2004, our group now has over 1200 members nationwide and we’ve had a presence at over two dozen provincial and federal NDP conventions across Canada.

Over the past decade, resolutions supporting drug policy reform have been passed by the NDP provincially in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and the Yukon.

As NDP Leader, Jack Layton said he was in favour of reforming our country’s cannabis laws, and creating a legal environment where adults can enjoy cannabis without having to worry about being criminalized.

The most recent NDP convention overwhelmingly passed a comprehensive drug-policy resolution supporting InSite, and calling for “a non-criminal, regulatory approach to substance use.”

We therefore submitted the following questions to all NDP Leadership candidates.

1) As Prime Minister, what kind of changes would you make to Canada’s marijuana laws? Both in regards to medicinal and social use. What kind of priority would you give to this issue?

2) As Prime Minister, would you allow the expansion of Supervised Injection Sites into cities and communities that want one? Would you provide funding for this, and for other harm reduction programs?

3) As Prime Minister, would you act on NDP policy to shift the focus of Canada’s drug policy away from criminalization and towards a non-criminal, regulatory approach? Can you give specific examples of laws or policies you would change? What kind of priority would you give to this issue?

We have received responses from six of the eight candidates. Despite repeated requests we have yet to receive a reply from Paul Dewar or Martin Singh.

End Prohibition was particularly encouraged by the replies from Niki Ashton, Romeo Saganash and Peggy Nash, all of whom said they supported moving past simple decriminalization and to a legally taxed and regulated model for cannabis access.

What follows is a summary of their replies, with their full responses below.

NIKI ASHTON: Ashton pledged her support for InSite, and also said that as PM she would "decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, order a review of laws around trafficking and declare an amnesty for Canadians convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana." She added that she would also move to allow "provincial governments and municipal governments to regulate the use of marijuana in much the same way that they currently regulate alcohol and [...] to sell small amounts of marijuana through government-owned establishments."

NATHAN CULLEN: Cullen gave strong support for InSite and harm reduction, while saying that "prohibition clearly has not achieved its goals." He called for decriminalization of marijuana and said Canada should follow the example of US states which have liberalized access for medicinal use. Cullen said that Harper's "expensive approach to crime [has] demonstrably failed where embraced in the United States."

THOMAS MULCAIR: Mulcair said he strongly supported access to medical marijuana, and pointed out that the Quebec Section of the NDP had passed a resolution in 2011 calling for the feds to implement more flexible regulations and allow more provincial control over the medical marijuana program. Mulcair also said he proudly supported InSite, and had endorsed an initiative to open safe injection sites in Montreal.

Mulcair indicated his support for “decriminalising the possession of marijuana” but didn’t give any specifics as to what this meant in terms of potential punishments or means of legal production and distribution, if any. More worringly to the cannabis legalization movement, Mulcair added that since it’s been 40 years since the landmark LeDain Commission, “the more potent versions of drugs such as marijuana have to be the object of new study.”

PEGGY NASH: Peggy Nash’s team said that she placed a high priority on “getting smart on crime” and that this included a “non-punitive, regulatory approach” to marijuana law, therefore going further than simply decriminalization of possession. She also pledged to reform the “flawed” medical marijuana program so that patients always have timely access to high quality marijuana. She said that InSite was a high priority and criticized Harper for spending taxpayer dollars to fight InSite in the courts and for committing billions of new dollars for enforcement and a prisons agenda.

ROMEO SAGANASH: Saganash acknowledged that marijuana is non-addictive and less harmful than alcohol, and that the criminalization of marijuana "creates enormous costs for the justice system, the penal system and society as a whole." He suggested that "it is time to look at full legalization, regulation and taxation," and that "in the interim, decriminalization is the least we can do toward reducing the harm inflicted by our current legislation." Saganash also said that Harper's "so-called 'tough on crime' agenda is simply 'dumb-on-crime'."

BRIAN TOPP: Topp's campaign gave the shortest answers of anyone. His wife Rebecca Elbourne replied, saying that Topp supports "decriminalization of both medicinal and social marijuana use" as well as harm reduction programs like InSite. She added that as Prime Minister, Topp would act to decriminalize cannabis and make support for harm reduction a high priority. Unfortunately, no specifics were given as to what form of “decriminalization” was being promised, whether it would include any sort of fines or punishment for possession, and whether it would include legalized production and sale.

Complete Replies

NIKI ASHTON

1) Part of the new politics is making government policy based on solid evidence and sound research rather than on the basis of ideology. The Canadian Medical Association has stated in the past that the health effects of moderate use of marijuana are minimal. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police once said that prosecuting people for small amounts of marijuana is a poor use of scarce resources. I agree with these statements.

As Prime Minister, I would support the development of an evidence-based strategy for tackling organized crime. I believe that the continued criminalization of marijuana is a foolhardy and short-sighted policy that provides a source of funding for criminal organizations and as a result, actually makes our communities less safe. Ending prohibition of marijuana is one concrete step we could take to weaken criminal organizations, and build safer communities in Canada.

Therefore, as Prime Minister, I would decriminalize the possession of marijuana for recreational purposes in small amounts. I would order a review of laws around trafficking to ensure that adult friends and adult family members could share marijuana in small amounts without fear of criminal penalty. Finally, I would declare an amnesty for those Canadians who have been convicted of possession over the years.

The legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana would be introduced as part of a broader strategy to reform the Canadian justice system, based on the following goals:

* making decisions based on solid evidence of what works, rather than on the old politics of division for the purpose of getting votes;

* refocusing the attention of the justice system on prosecuting offenses that do real harm to Canadians;

* increased federal investments in programs outside the criminal justice system that help to build safer communities like harm reduction and addictions treatment programs

2) I believe that the Government of Canada has a moral obligation to support policy reforms that will save lives. Supervised injection sites like Insite and other harm reduction policies have been proven to save lives. Therefore, as Prime Minister, I would support their expansion into communities that are willing to have them, provided that the same kind of expertise and support that made Insite a success in Vancouver were also available in those communities.

On Wednesday, January 11th, I announced a new politics health strategy for Canada. As part of that strategy, I announced a commitment to provide targeted funding to improve health outcomes in segments of our population that have particular health care needs. Federal government funding for harm reduction programs, and for substance abuse treatment programs, would be an important part of that strategy.

3) The old politics of Stephen Harper is based on division. He plays on people’s natural and understandable fear of crime to support policies that are not based on solid evidence and actually contribute to making our communities less safe. The new politics is about bringing people together to tackle some of our problems, and making decisions about how to build safer communities based on the best available evidence of what works.

As Prime Minister, I would support a shift of Canada’s drug policy from one based on enforcement to one based on harm reduction and health prevention. All of the available evidence, and the experience in jurisdictions elsewhere, shows that this shift would actually lead to lower rates of crime and safer communities.

I would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, order a review of laws around trafficking and declare an amnesty for Canadians convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana. I would redirect the money spent on enforcement of marijuana prohibition into the investigation and prosecution of serious, violent crimes that pose a significant risk to public safety. And I would increase funding for harm reduction programs and substance abuse treatment programs.

Part of my campaign for a new politics has been to give different communities and different regions of the country the ability to tailor government policy based on solid evidence of what works in their communities. The shift to a regulatory approach would allow provincial governments and municipal governments to regulate the use of marijuana in much the same way that they currently regulate alcohol and licensed establishments. This would, for example, allow provincial governments to sell small amounts of marijuana through government-owned establishments in much the same way that liquor is currently sold in most Canadian provinces.

NATHAN CULLEN

1) Marijuana should not be criminalized, and I've been clear this campaign that I support decriminalization. Prohibition clearly has not achieved its goals and it's time our laws stopped criminalizing people whom society does not see as criminals. I believe we should follow the examples of many American states on medicinal use, and liberalize access.

2) Unequivocally, yes. As a British Columbian, I am appalled at the Harper government's attitude towards Vancouver's InSite and agree with the Supreme Court. Programs like this reduce drug dependence, save lives and reduce crime.

3) Society benefits from the approach used in Vancouver, which focuses on harm reduction. We don't benefit from the expensive approach to crime shown by the Harper government, which has demonstrably failed where embraced in the United States. This is another reason I am open to doing politics differently to defeat them. I would be very supportive of harm reduction programs like InSite, and reducing the police and court resources used to prosecute marijuana possession. However, I believe enforcement has a role, particularly at the border.

THOMAS MULCAIR

1) I strongly support party policy on granting access to medical use of marijuana, while maintaining dedicated programmes countering the negative health and social consequences of recreational drug use. In fact, at its council meeting in October 2011, the Quebec section of the NDP has passed a resolution calling on the federal government to allow provinces to create a more flexible regulatory framework, permitting home grown marijuana for medical purposes.

I also support the party's existing policy on further decriminalising the possession of marijuana for any use with the goal to eliminate the influence of organised crime on the production and distribution of marijuana. In order to make good on those policies, we first need to replace the Harper government with its wrong headed ideological approach to criminal issues. This is why party members should think about who is best positioned to beat the Conservatives in 2015.

2) In terms of allowing for expanded access, absolutely. I proudly supported our resolution at the Vancouver convention in support of Insite. In fact I was also glad to endorse a civil society initiative in Montreal to open safe injection sites in the province of Quebec. That service is now under way, following the landmark Supreme Court ruling on Insite.

In terms of funding, one has to be mindful of provincial jurisdiction, but I welcome a cooperative attitude to federalism that permits for the federal government to provide increased funding to essential matters of public health, such as safe injection sites, where provinces request such involvement.

3) Contrary to Stephen Harper, I strongly believe that criminalisation is not the appropriate answer in any area of social policy. Having a reputation as a principled regulator and an innovator on environmental policy, I would promote an approach that focuses on harm reduction rather than criminalisation.

It has been 40 years since the landmark report "LeDain Commission on the Non-Medical use of Drugs". The new drugs being consumed recreationally as well as the more potent versions of drugs such as marijuana have to be the object of new study. The best social, medical and law enforcement expertise should be made available to allow us to take the best decisions for the future. I will diligently follow up on existing party policy on this matter, actively engaging our caucus and the elected bodies of the Party.

PEGGY NASH

1) The NDP has long advocated in support of decriminalization of marijuana and Peggy supports this position. It's time to move forward with a national discussion that will focus on a non-punitive, regulatory approach to adult marijuana use with an emphasis on prevention, education and health promotion.

Specifically with regards to Health Canada’s Marijuana Medical Access Program, it is a priority for Peggy to reform this flawed program. As you know, it has been found unconstitutional by several courts, and has been criticized by medical professionals, law enforcement agencies, and patients. We need to ensure that medical marijuana patients are getting timely access to the high quality medical marijuana they require. Peggy is committed to working with caucus as well as with stakeholders to reform this program.

2) Yes. Peggy supports NDP party policy that was recently passed on InSite and drug policy. She recognizes that InSite saves lives and has been part of the solution when it comes to addressing the spread of HIV/AIDS and incidences of drug overdose, and in increasing the number of users accessing rehabilitation and similar services. Further, we have seen successful examples of harm reduction programs across Canada.

3) Peggy opposes the federal government's backwards agenda where they are moving away from harm reduction, and instead using taxpayer dollars to fight InSite in the courts and committing billions of new dollars for enforcement and a prisons agenda. Most recently, Peggy and the NDP were strong in their opposition to the Conservatives' omnibus crime legislation. While there were some measures in this legislation that we supported, it is nonsensical that provisions in this bill saw marijuana growers serving more time in prison than child molesters.

Getting smart on crime is a priority for Peggy. She believes that we must move forward with a balanced approach to crime that weighs prevention, protection and prosecution. As already mentioned, a crucial part of this involves a national discussion that will focus on a non-punitive, regulatory approach to adult marijuana use with an emphasis on prevention, education and health promotion.

ROMEO SAGANASH

1) A proposition in California suggested that it is time to look at full legalization, regulation and taxation. Medical authorities have recently made the same recommendation. This deserves serious study. Marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol, and unlike alcohol, it is non-addictive. The criminalization of marijuana creates ties to other crime, just as prohibition did with alcohol. Criminalization creates an enormous cost for the justice system, the penal system, and for society as a whole when we incarcerate tens of thousands of our young people. In the interim, decriminalization is the least we can do toward reducing the harm inflicted by our current legislation.

2) I support such facilities wherever they can be shown to be useful. This has been demonstrated in Vancouver and there is evidence that other facilities could be similarly effective. While health care is principally a provincial jurisdiction, there are avenues for funding harm reduction through federal programs that deserve continuing support.

3) Mandatory minimum sentences interfere with an independent judiciary, undermining the rule of law. I believe in providing judges with sufficient freedom to make the best decisions on every case that comes before them. The so-called "tough on crime" agenda is simply "dumb-on-crime" in my view. It flies in the face of the facts, every serious study and on-the-ground experience in other countries. In the United States, they are now reversing the changes they made to their laws in the face of evidence that such an approach actually makes crime worse.

BRIAN TOPP

1) Brian supports the decriminalization of both medicinal and social marijuana use.

2) Brian strongly supports harm reduction programs like InSite and would work with communities that want to introduce this and other forms of harm reduction.

3) Brian supports NDP policy and would act to to decriminalize cannabis. Support for harm reduction would be a high priority.

Visit End Prohibition for more information about NDP candidates and the Drug War.

Visit NDP.ca for more information about the leadership race.

Comments

Legalization not Decrim!

Peggy Nash - I liked her response the best.
Romeo Saganash, is a close 2nd.
I like Niki Ashton's response, although I don't like the decrim mentioned, but the rest of her response is very impressive.
Nathan Cullen talks a good story, but it lacks substance, and thus merit. Not sure he will do what he intimates he will.
Thomas Mulcair sounds similar, no real substance. He seems to be pandering.
For shame on the 2 that have not yet responded - Paul Dewar and Martin Singh. I guess they don't want to be leader if they refuse to respond. This is an important NATIONAL question that we, as Canadians deserve a response to. IMO, no response, booted from the leadership race.

Dewar

Dewar did eventually reply and we have added his response to this article.

Nathan Cullen

I've followed Nathan Cullen's career quite closely, and he's not one to make a promise that he doesn't intend to follow through with. In my experience, he has always proven himself to be completely trustworthy and ethical.

NDP

Working in the oil patch of Ab, it would be unconscionable to vote in NDP and no longer be able to provide for my family.
Despite my love for cannabis, I have to note PC to stay employed. Can't risk another national energy policy.
Sorry, weed doesn't feed my family.

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