Mulcair, Marijuana, and the NDP

By Dana Larsen

Hello my friends, here are some thoughts about the drug policy reform movement, the New Democratic Party, and Thomas Mulcair.
First off, I backed Peggy Nash’s leadership bid, and worked hard to elect her, along with End Prohibition Directors Nicole Seguin and Jacob Hunter—they set up her BC phone bank and database. During the campaign we made a lot of new friends and allies, we gained the gratitude and respect of an MP who could very well be Canada’s next Finance Minister, and we helped ensure that cannabis and drug policy issues had some solid voices of support among the leadership candidates.
Nash wasn’t the only one who said the right kind of stuff on pot and drug policy issues. All of the leadership candidates (except for Martin Singh) answered our End Prohibition questionnaire and said they supported harm reduction, they supported InSite, they opposed mandatory minimums, they called the drug war a failure, and they supported the idea that pot is best dealt with in some sort of non-criminal fashion. Mulcair said he supported NDP policy of decriminalizing possession for all purposes.
You can see the End Prohibition questionnaire and all the Leadership Candidates replies at <>
However, as most people are well aware, Mulcair gave a somewhat different answer when asked about marijuana decriminalization on Global News’ WestBlock. He said that he would like to have a commission like LeDain from 1971, to decide the best marijuana policy, and that to say in advance that we should decriminalize would be “a serious mistake.”
You can see the part of the WestBlock interview where Mulcair was asked about decriminalization at <>
I spent much of the convention talking about cannabis and drug policy with fellow NDP members. Mulcair’s WestBlock interview and his comments about decrim were brought up repeatedly in conversation. Several people who were Mulcair organizers and volunteers told me they didn’t like his answer to the “decrim” question posed. They said they would work on him, and that they felt he could do better in articulating our party policy on cannabis.
But let’s not overreact to a single interview by a leadership candidate. Yes Mulcair said he thought marijuana was more potent and harmful now, but he didn’t call for longer sentences, he didn’t say prohibition was wonderful. Yes sadly he repeated a silly pot myth, and he said that as PM he wouldn’t decriminalize marijuana without first having a commission or study to determine the best national drug policy. He could have done a lot better, but he could have been a lot worse.
Let’s not take that one interview in isolation. In repeated interviews over the past few years, Mulcair has repeatedly stated his opposition to the omnibus crime bill, his rejection of the Harper prison building spree, his disagreement with the Conservative view of prisons as the first resort instead of the last.
Mulcair has actively lobbied and worked to promote a supervised injection site in Montreal, he supports “harm reduction” and said he proudly voted for the InSite resolution we passed at the 2011 convention, which included support for a “non-criminal” approach to ALL drug use.
Because of the WestBlock interview, some people have recently been calling Mulcair a “prohibitionist” and saying that he’s as bad as Harper. That is not a fair or useful comparison in my opinion.
Some have pointed out that the Liberals now have an explicit policy on “legalization” of marijuana. That’s wonderful! But it’s not a reason for the cannabis reform movement to leave the NDP.
Let’s remember that the NDP has passed a variety of resolutions confirming their progressive policies on cannabis and drug issues over the past 13 years.
•In 1999 the NDP passed a resolution calling for marijuana decriminalization.
•In 2001 the NDP passed a national resolution backing the “harm reduction model for drug addiction and abuse” and calling for all drug policy to be moved out of the federal Justice Ministry and into the Ministry of Health.
•In 2001 the NDP also passed a resolution calling for the government to fix the medical marijuana program, and “make marijuana more easily available upon a doctor’s prescription.”
•In 2006, the NDP passed a resolution supporting the expansion of InSite and calling for all drug use to be treated as a health issue and not a criminal one.
•Over the past decade, provincial NDP conventions have also passed policy resolutions calling for things like marijuana legalization, expansion of InSite, support for harm reduction, and backing the decriminalization approach to drug use, in every province from BC to Ontario, plus the Yukon.
•Most recently at the Vancouver Convention in 2011, the NDP overwhelmingly backed a policy resolution supporting InSite and also calling for “a broad federal review of the impacts and harms caused by current drug prohibition policies, to select the best model for the government to implement a non-criminal, regulatory approach to substance use, based on reducing risk and harm, emphasizing prevention, public education, health promotion and safety.”
So in a way, in calling for the pot policy commission, Mulcair was articulating the party policy of a “broad federal review” of prohibition. I wish he had phrased it better, and I also wish he had mentioned the very real harms of cannabis prohibition in terms of tax dollars spent, justice system clogged, gang violence increased and criminalization of otherwise law-abiding youth.
Yet despite all of this, it should be clear that electing Mulcair as our next Prime Minister at the head of Canada’s first NDP government would give us the best chance to change and improve Canada’s pot and drug laws that we have ever had.
The Liberal’s new policy on legalization bodes well because it means we are developing a political consensus in Canada that we need to change the drug laws. In the past year both NDP and Liberals have passed significant anti-prohibition policies at convention. This means that an NDP government could move to change the pot laws without criticism from the Liberals.
I’m happy that the Young Liberals sent out a press release attacking Mulcair for being too strict on pot. What a change from Liberal governments of the past who passed stricter laws and refused to accept NDP amendments to their prohibitionist legislation!
(NDP MP Jim Fulton introduced a private members bill to legalize pot in 1993, but the Liberal government killed it. Then the NDP tried to get a few plants and a small amount of bud legalized under the Liberal’s new drug law in 1996, but the Liberal government rejected the proposal.)
It is way too soon to see how all of this will play out. We definitely need to keep the pressure on Mulcair, to educate and also empower him to give better answers on pot and drug policy.
Often it is in the phrasing of the message. Jack Layton used to say it was time for Canada to have an “adult conversation” about marijuana. Isn’t a national commission on marijuana essentially an adult conversation? (If Mulcair had said he wanted to have a national commission to best figure out how to decriminalize or legalize cannabis, without the comments on pot somehow being more dangerous now, that would have been a much better answer.)
I was heartened that Mulcair said in his first post-victory interview that Libby Davies will remain on as deputy leader. I hope he sticks to that. If he is smart, he will remember that he won only a narrow margin of victory, and that it took four ballots. For most NDPers he wasn’t their first or second choice. To succeed, he will have to bring together the factions of the party and be a uniting leader. I think he is well aware of this and will avoid divisive change.
For me, my mission and political work in regards to End Prohibition and the NDP remains the same. End Prohibition will have a presence at several provincial NDP Conventions this year, working to pass resolutions, build alliances and make friends. The federal NDP will have another convention next year, and we will be out in full force, promoting better pot/drug policies and keeping the pressure on Mulcair and the federal cabinet.
Canada’s next election is three long years away. A lot can happen between now and then, but we cannot allow Harper to win the next election.
The NDP is in a strong second place, we have capacity for growth all across Canada, and there is every possibility that Mulcair will be our next Prime Minister, leading a cabinet more friendly to marijuana and drug policy reform than any our country has ever known.
Thomas Mulcair as Prime Minister, Libby Davies as Health Minister, Peggy Nash as Finance Minister, Nathan Cullen as Environment Minister, Jack Harris as Justice Minister… That is a government we could work with!
An NDP government is, I think, a very worthy goal for us to achieve. I for one will be working my butt off over the next three years to do two things: 1) elect Thomas Mulcair as Prime Minister of Canada’s first NDP government in 2015, and 2) ensure that Mulcair and the NDP are ready and empowered to change Canada’s cannabis and drug laws when they take power.
I hope that other drug policy reform activists across Canada share this vision, and will work to defeat Harper’s Conservatives by electing more New Democrats in 2015, so that we can have our nation’s first NDP government. That is the only path I can see that leads to ending Canada’s war on cannabis.
Thank you. For more about “End Prohibition: New Democrats Against the Drug War” check out <>
This article was originally published on <> and used with permission

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