Article by John Geddes, MacLean’s
There’s a paradox in the way Justin Trudeau has positioned himself on marijuana. From the time he first came out in favour of legalizing pot—during a summer swing through British Columbia as the Liberals’ new leader in 2013—Trudeau has framed this seemingly hip policy in surprisingly square terms.
More than anything, he’s stressed making it harder for teenagers to buy it. In what has since become a familiar Liberal refrain, he lamented in B.C. that halcyon summer, “In many cases, it’s more difficult for young people to get their hands on cigarettes than it is to get their hands on weed.”
In that vein, his government’s officials set up this week’s unveiling of long-awaited marijuana legislation by emphasizing get-tough, rather than get-with-it, elements. They talk of stiff penalties for selling to kids, policies to prevent any post-legalization spike in driving while stoned, and funding for a public-education campaign on the dangers of marijuana.
So stern is their tone, in fact, that it’s easy to forget this policy was successfully hatched inside the Liberal party by its exuberant youth wing, back in 2012, and Trudeau’s embrace of it was heralded as a splashy sign of his unbuttoned, youth-courting style—the furthest thing from a law-and-order push.
But pollster David Coletto, of the Ottawa firm Abacus Data, says his research suggests Trudeau’s marijuana policy might not be so obviously potent with youth as is often assumed. A poll Abacus did last year for the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations found that only about 20 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 24 listed legalizing marijuana as one of their top five policy priorities.
That’s far below the 63 per cent who picked making college and university more accessible and affordable, say, or the 54 per cent who put improving Canada’s health care system in their top five. Still, Coletto says marijuana has potentially more symbolic weight than those numbers suggest. Even if young adults rank affording school and getting decent health care as more vital than legally buying weed, failure to deliver on this marquee promise would, he says, “signify you’re not maybe who you said you were.”