.CANADA-ELECTION/DEBATE

This is the Third part of a blog series concerning the upcoming Federal election.

Get Out The Cannabis Vote – Part 3 of 5

By Beth Cormier

The New Democratic Party of Canada

In this installment of my blog series for the election, I will talk about The New Democratic Party of Canada and their position on cannabis. The NDP does not have an official platform, per say, but they definitely have a strong stance regarding cannabis decriminalization.

The New Democrats are in favour of decriminalization, a position they have backed for decades. In an interview with CTV in August of 2014, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair stated: “For forty years [the NDP] has believed that it makes no sense at all for a person to have a criminal record for possession or personal use of a small amount of marijuana.” Despite this assertion, the party’s official stance is that there is not enough research to warrant full legalization quite yet.

ndp-leader-tom-mulcair-year-endWhen questioned at a campaign stop on August 20, as to why his party favours decriminalization over legalization, Mr. Mulcair said: “Decriminalizing marijuana is the position of the NDP, it’s my position and it’s something that we can do immediately.” During the same campaign stop he also stated: “I want to make sure that everybody understands that the NDP’s position is decriminalization the minute we form government”.

One problem with decriminalization as opposed to legalization is the confusion it could create when it comes to law enforcement. There is speculation that the NDP aims to create a system where certain cannabis related crimes would become ticketed offences while others would still require jail time. With the mandatory minimum sentences that have come into effect under the Harper Government, it may be challenging to quickly change those aspects of the law. Although Canada is generally lenient on small marijuana offenses, many Canadians still end up with criminal records for cannabis use, possession, trafficking, and production – thus making it difficult for many to gain employment and travel outside of Canada. When questioned about what decriminalization will mean for those already incarcerated for cannabis related crimes or those who have criminal records due to cannabis related charges Mr. Mulcair stated that “amnesty for past offences is an important question” and one an NDP government would “look at.”

ndpOne initiative of the NDP is to create an “independent commission” that consults with provincial governments and studies the issue. As far as full legalization, the NDP are not opposed to that option – in October of 2014 the NDP officially made it their party’s policy to “decriminalize it, study it and then maybe legalize it . . . . An NDP government would decriminalize the drug immediately and study the health and societal side-effects.”

While going the route of decriminalization may be quick to implement it creates complexities, namely, where will people be sourcing their cannabis for personal use? Decriminalization leaves the door open for organized crime to continue controlling the supply of cannabis on the street. Mr. Mulcair’s answer to this is to invest more money into policing. At a campaign stop in August in Surrey, BC – an area that has been hard hit by gang violence (with 30 shootings since March), Mr. Mulcair pledged that if his party forms government they will invest millions into getting “boots on the ground that fight crime”. Some critics state that this is just a continuation of prohibition, which is a failed policy that does nothing to solve gang violence and organized crime. Nevertheless, the NDP does not see it that way. They believe that “To help police protect our communities, an NDP government will work with provinces, territories, municipalities and First Nations to provide stable, ongoing funding to put 2,500 new officers on the streets and keep them there. To achieve this goal, the NDP will re-establish the Police Officer Recruitment Fund that was cancelled by Stephen Harper, with a $250 million investment over the next four fiscal-years, followed by permanent ongoing funding of $100 million annually.” This seems to contrast the NDP’s stance on the issue – in 2014 the NDP drafted a dissenting minority report in response to the HESA Committee report on the risks and harms of marijuana. In that report they stated: “It is clear that the Conservative war on drugs is not working. We need an approach that
focuses on health promotion, public education, and safety.”

medical-marijuana-20140330Another important question to ponder when considering a decriminalized Canada is: what will it mean for medicinal cannabis and the current MMPR program, as well as the thousands of patients who rely on dispensaries? How will it change the landscape of the medicinal cannabis industry in Canada? In their “Question of the Week” series, The Nelson Daily asked each candidate in the Kootenay/Columbia riding what their party’s stance on marijuana is. NDP candidate Wayne Stetski, responded by saying: “Medicinal marijuana is already legal in Canada, with the federal government issuing approvals. . . . Medicinal marijuana, as already determined by the Supreme Court of Canada, should be available in a variety of forms.” He also stated: “The challenge for municipalities is whether or not to allow marijuana operations in the community, and under which zoning and conditions. It is important, in my opinion, not to have large medicinal grow-ops located in residential areas due to potential odour and safety concerns. Storefront locations also need to be carefully located and the conditions of the licenses enforced. . . . We need to have further study and research on the benefits and harms of marijuana, and we need a real effort to properly educate the public on this matter.” Mr. Stetski, however, failed to comment on what his party’s position is on mandatory minimum sentences in regards to cannabis.

Would a decriminalized Canada allow for adequate research into the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis? In the aforementioned dissenting minority report, the NDP outlined the importance of research into the “potential effectiveness” of medicinal cannabis. In the report, they comment on the difficulties of studying the effectiveness of cannabis as a medicine, due to prohibition. There does not seem to be any available information on a New Democratic plan to allow for any individual or organization to have larger amounts of cannabis for research purposes under decriminalization. However, they did have this to say in their report: “research on medical marijuana is limited because of prohibition. More in-depth research to examine the potential benefits of medical marijuana is needed, but is difficult to undertake due to current Canadian government policies on marijuana. The government of Canada needs to fund research on the clinical effectiveness of marijuana; as well as the long term effects on vulnerable populations, such as youth and mental illness.”

GenericLinkIt is clear that the New Democrats believe in the importance of studying cannabis, educating the public about it and keeping communities safe. It is also apparent that they do not believe in crucifying citizens of this country for possessing or using small amounts of cannabis. Thomas Mulcair has repeatedly gone on record stating that an NDP government would decriminalize immediately. What comes after that is really anyone’s guess? The NDP will decriminalize, study it, and “go from there.”

If you have any further questions about the NDP’s platform regarding cannabis, I encourage you to get out to your local NDP campaign headquarters and ask your questions. Attend any public meetings you can, get online and research.

Please educate yourselves and please, regardless of whom you vote for, JUST VOTE!

For more information on the New Democratic Party or to find a candidate in your riding visit: http://www.ndp.ca/

By Beth Cormier

 

References:

http://www.libbydavies.ca/sites/default/files/file-uploads/NDP%20Marijuana%20Minority%20Report_EN.pdf

http://thenelsondaily.com/news/nelson-daily-question-week-%E2%80%94-marijuana-39410#.VhbuuRNVikp

http://www.ndp.ca/news/mulcair-announces-plan-more-front-line-police-officers

http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v14/n827/a09.html

http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/cma-opposes-smoking-pot-mulcair-calls-it-a-personal-choice-1.1967587

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/ndp-mulcair-marijuana-decriminalization-1.3199532

http://www.straight.com/news/524881/decriminalization-versus-legalization-marijuana-advocates-scrutinize-competing-plans

 

This is the Third part of a blog series concerning the upcoming Federal election.

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