Jackson Doughart
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The Conservative flop on cannabis is illogical and predictable

Prince Arthur Herald, 13 January 2014

In August I predicted that the Conservatives would flop on the issue of cannabis prohibition. As Chris Selley from the National Post points out, that’s exactly what they’ve done, except that they are maintaining, absurdly, that by “considering” the replacement of courts and prisons with tickets and fines, they are not considering decriminalization. Hypocritically, meanwhile, the Conservatives are continuing to slam Mr Trudeau for favouring the “radical” step of legalization. Before, the Tories opposed Trudeau by standing tough on their anti-drug mantra; now they’re going to oppose him by supporting the position of decriminalization (soon you’ll hear them calling this “reasonable” and “pragmatic”), while continuing to preach against drugs to edify their supporters.

Aside from the Mitt Romney-style flip flop, which could have been seen coming from the moon, there are three things that annoy me about this. First is the reaffirmation that there is not, and can never be, a social or moral issue in Canada where the political parties take distinct, definite positions — the starting point for 1) the occurrence a real public argument, and 2) the democratic resolution of the issue through Parliament.

Here’s what should happen: The Liberals should campaign for legalization, the Conservatives should campaign for the maintenance of the possession laws, and the New Democrats should campaign for whatever they believe (decriminalization, but not legalization, is the current NDP position). The parties should sponsor debates within and without of Parliament, calling on representatives of the various sides to make their case. They should also keep the positions clear and consistent until the next election. This way, voters who care about the issue can be presented with a clear choice.

To believe otherwise is to misunderstand how parliamentary democracy is supposed to work. The way that the party’s sway around from one position to the next, all in pursuit of approval from Joe Lunchbox, is a symptom of significant problems. Joe’s role is to participate in the debate and to ultimately cast his vote at election time, not to lead the parties around like groupies at a rock concert.

Secondly, this case shows yet again how the Conservative Party is deathly afraid of association with “social conservatism”. To the party, moral traditionalists in the population are useful only for donations and electoral-campaign support. Once in office, they are to be abandoned as quickly as possible, all in the service of protecting the party’s progressive image.

I completely fail to understand this: on the one hand, by what ideal does there have to be three socially-progressive parties in this country? Why must it be that the parties agree, more or less to the letter, on every matter of value?

On the other hand, the endeavour to liberalize the party’s image is utterly pointless. People who care passionately about transforming Canada into a cultural-Marxist utopia have already made up their minds: Stephen Harper is the Canadian incarnation of Rush Limbaugh or Pat Robertson or Ian Paisley, or whichever Protestant moralizer one cares to name; and his crowd is the Northern equivalent of either the Evangelical wing of the Republican Party or the Tea Party, or both. Not one of these people would ever change his mind about Harper or the Conservatives if they legalized cannabis. Not one. So the Tories might as well just go ahead and pursue a genuinely-conservative agenda. Whether they do or not won’t change the minds of left-of-centre folks; yet what it will do is wrongfully write their traditionalist constituency straight out of the political process.

Thirdly, and this complaint relates directly to the case at hand, there is no meaningful distinction to be observed between the legalization and decriminalization of drugs. At least, not from the perspective of deterring the use of cannabis, and hence interdicting the demand that feeds the supply. (One is reminded that it is the supposedly-evil black-market traffickers who would be targeted in the post-prohibition world. But if people were prevented from using it, where would they find their customers in the first place?)

Anyone can see that the pursuit of decriminalization, whatever it exactly entails, is a surrender to the very idea of deterring people from using drugs. Ticket offenses, such as parking in the wrong spot or driving too quickly or letting one’s passengers have a drink in the back seat are all activities that are more or less accepted as morally-neutral; they are discouraged not for moral reasons but for utilitarian ones. An analogous change for the case of marijuana — what the Conservatives are now considering — amounts to denying the very basis of the possession prohibition, not merely pursuing a different means to the same end. It is the end that has changed, and the means has dutifully followed.

If this is indeed the future, where government is indifferent to drug use, then the political parties should have the cojones to say so. This is especially true of the Conservatives, who are clearly trying to have it both ways. All are hiding behind the outright lie that prohibition is being weakened in the interest of lowering use, when the real reason is that they are increasingly comfortable with a society that accepts drugs with no qualms.

Jackson Doughart jdoughart (at) gmail (dot) com