Liberal Senate Forum to Discuss Marijuana Legalization Tomorrow in Ottawa

CANNABIS CULTURE – Liberal members of Canada’s Senate will host an open forum to discuss the legalization of marijuana tomorrow in Ottawa.

Unfortunately, most of the official “experts” slated to answer questions are former police officers and substance abuse workers.

The Liberal Senate Forum website’s introduction to the event:

On February 24th, we invite you to join us in a discussion on the legalization of marijuana. In its speech from the throne, the government reaffirmed its commitment to legalize marijuana during its mandate. Recent polls suggest that the majority of Canadians support such a move. As Canada moves toward legalization, it is crucial that it is done right. How should marijuana be sold? What steps can be taken to ensure marijuana stays out of the hands of minors? What tools are available to police for those driving under the influence?

To answer these and other questions, we have invited a panel of experts and policy makers to address these and other issues.

So who are these “experts”?

  • Bill Blair, M.P., Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice
  • Clive Weighill, President, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP)
  • Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA)
    • Amy Porath-Waller, Ph.D., Director, Research and Policy
    • Rebecca Jesseman, Senior Policy Advisor
  • Benedikt Fischer, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)
  • Eugene Oscapella, Lawyer and lecturer on drug policy, Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa

Bill Blair is the former Toronto police chief assigned by Justin Trudeau and the Liberals to be the chief architect of marijuana legalization in Canada. He told the press, “Our intent is to legalize, regulate and restrict.”

Shortly after the Liberal Senate Forum page announcing the event was posted, and outcry of voices from Canada’s cannabis community appeared in the comment section.

Judging by the “expert” list, it looked to many activists like the government’s position would be heavy on the restrictions.

Long-time pot activist Dana Larsen wrote in the comments:

Two police officers, two doctors and a policy analyst. This is your panel of “experts.”

How about inviting an actual cannabis user?

How about inviting someone who has been through the justice system for a cannabis charge, and can explain how that works from the inside?

How about inviting a police officer from LEAP: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition?

How about inviting the parents of a child who has epilepsy and uses cannabis as their life-saving medicine?

How about anyone at all from the actual Canadian cannabis community of activists, growers and cannabis users?

If Canadian legalization is going to be solely informed by police officers and policy analysts, then it’s going to be a crappy kind of legalization that won’t solve any of the problems associated with prohibition.

After a flood of similar complaints, the page was updated by the Senate Liberals for clarification:

We have read your concerns and recognize there is some misunderstanding about the role of our Open Caucus meetings. We would like to address this below:

  1. The Senate Liberals are no longer affiliated with the governing Liberals in the House of Commons. What this means is we can only affect government policy insofar as we can vote on and study legislation as individual Senators. This is not a government sanctioned panel.
  2. Blair is appearing as a witness in his role as a member of the Government. If you look to our meeting on February 3rd, you will note we also hosted Mr. Holland, Parliamentary Secretary on Democratic Reform as a member of our panel on Election Reform. We cannot always secure a government representative, but when we do we welcome them in order to hear the government’s perspective.
  3. This is not a meeting to discuss whether or not the government should legalize marijuana, but rather how to legalize it. The government re-committed to its election promise to legalize marijuana in its speech from the throne, which we take to mean legalization is coming in one form or another. As legislators who will be voting on this legislation in the near future, we are looking to inform ourselves and others on how to go about this in a responsible way that works and can last. We recognize that we cannot touch on all aspects of legalization during a two hour meeting.
  4. This meeting is separate from official government consultations and parliamentary Committee proceedings as the marijuana legislation is crafted.
  5. Please note we have added Eugene Oscapella to the witness list, an Ottawa area lawyer and co-founder of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy.

Oscapella – added to the “witness list” after the outcry – will likely add a bit of balance to the opinions of those speaking.

Oscapella has spoken to the Senate before, making a case against mandatory minimum sentences to the committee studying Bill C-15.

To provide added balance to the event, Vancouver activist Jodie Emery is headed to Ottawa and hopes to speak at the gathering.

“As the Canadian government moves forward with legalization plans, it is essential that our leaders seek input from expert advocates and professionals in the marijuana and hemp industry,” Emery wrote in a CC blog post.

“For many decades, legalization activists faced criticism and opposition from law enforcement and mental health professionals. It is now vital that the government take a balanced approach and work with all affected parties, not just representatives from organizations that have historically opposed legalization.”

Follow Jodie EmeryCannabis Culture, and the Liberal Senate Forum on Twitter for updates during tomorrow’s Senate meeting.


Jeremiah Vandermeer
Jeremiah Vandermeer

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