Article by James McClure, Civilized
Anne McLellan is a reluctant cannabis culture icon in Canada. As chair of the government’s cannabis task force, McLellan oversaw a team that researched the science, culture and business of cannabis to propose regulations for the bill that will legalize recreational cannabis use in Canada later this year.
Along the way, she picked up a couple nicknames that she’s a bit perplexed about.
“When I became chair of the task force on cannabis, all of the sudden, I got called the ‘princess of pot’ and the ‘queen of weed,’ which is all very funny and ironic because I’m not a user – never have been,” she told Civilized in a recent interview.
But she is looking forward to addressing the Canadian pathway to legalization this June as the keynote speaker at the World Cannabis Congress in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.
“It’s important for people to understand what the task force did and what our principles were around public safety and public health,” McLellan explained. “We’re not in the business of promoting use, but we are in the business – as we go through this transformation – of ensuring that the fundamental principles of public health and public safety are front and centre. So the Congress gives me – on behalf of the task force – an opportunity to reinforce those values.”
How did you react when you were asked to chair a task force that would revolutionize Canadian drug laws?
It was my former colleague and dear friend, the Honourable Ralph Goodale – Minister of Public Safety – who called me and asked if I would be interested in chairing the task force. I did initially suggest to Ralph that maybe I wasn’t the best person to do that. But Ralph is quite persuasive.
And it was an interesting public policy challenge. After thinking more about it, I came to the conclusion that it was an important public policy initiative not only for the government but obviously for the country. And that the advice that we would provide the government would be – we hoped – important to their final decisions as to how to implement their commitment to legalization and regulation.
So, I guess, at the end of the day, I like a challenge, and this was a challenge that was an important one, and I thought this was worth doing.
When you said someone else might be better for the position, was that because you didn’t have a background in the science of cannabis, or because you were opposed to legalization, or another reason?
Oh, I wasn’t opposed to legalization. I don’t think this is a job anyone would take if you were opposed to legalization.
It was because I had dealt with cannabis in my previous political life. When I was federal Minister of Health, we were still in the process of developing regulations for the medicinal use of cannabis. And that had its ups and downs. When I was Minister of Justice, we had our ups and downs. When I was Minister of Public Safety, we had our ups and downs in terms of cannabis and the approach of government to cannabis and its users. So I had a history that was – I would say – an interesting and not always easy one.