Harper's Youtube Political Dilemma: Cannabis Legalization
March 11, 2010 by Paul McKeever
“It sounded like a good idea at the time”. I fully expect those to be the words beginning to thrum in the mind of Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, following his announced acceptance of Google’s offer to stream his response to the throne speech today, and to answer YouTubers’ questions on YouTube next Tuesday, March 16th. It is a decision that has put him in an uncomfortable spot with respect to the issue of marijuana legalization.
Until Sunday, March 14th, the public will have the ability both to submit a question and to rank all of the questions submitted. The questions are not edited, so the whole process lacks the protection usually afforded by the mainstream media: Harper faces questions that concern the public, rather than questions designed to highlight the concerns or agendas of media interests.
The most shocking result, so far: all three of the three most popular questions so far – by a landslide – all deal with…cannabis legalization. I reproduce, below, the top three questions and their rankings (as of 6:05 PM on March 11, 2010), together with the fourth, which is not cannabis related.
“A majority of Canadians when polled say they believe marijuana should be legal for adults and taxes like alcohol. Why don’t you end the war on drugs and focus on violent criminals.”
Dan Grice, Langley
“When over 45% of Canadians admit to smoking cannabis at least once in their lives, as well as 14% using it monthly, isn’t it time to stop putting people in jail for victimless crimes and start to take the drug trade away from the black market?”
Francais McKellan, Edmonton, Alberta
“PM Harper, marijuana is one of BC’s largest exports.This rumored $B. industry goes untaxed. Why not legalize, & tax the drug that statistically is less harmful than Tobacco and Alcohol? Has your gov. discussed controlled legalization? What can we do?”
Mark Radford, Toronto
Fourth most popular question:
Why is the government not more open about the Afghan detainee issue? Every time a legitimate question is asked, the response is that we should “support our troops” and look the other way.”
If this rather overwhelming popularity of cannabis legalization questions continues until voting ends on Sunday, the Prime Minister will be facing a very significant dilemma. Specifically, marijuana legalization collides head-on with the Conservative government’s bill C-15 from last session; a bill that would impose oppressive mandatory minimum imprisonment sentences for various cannabis offenses, including growing six cannabis plants for personal consumption.
All signs are beginning to point to the probability that C-15 was the predominant reason for proroguing Parliament. Shortly prior to proroguing, the then Liberal-dominated Senated made changes to C-15 that Justice Minister Rob Nicholson regarded as a “gutting” of the bill. Of particular note, the Senate removed mandatory minimums for those growing 5 to 200 cannabis plants. Nicholson flipped.
Following the alleged gutting, the Prime Minister had Parliament prorogued, then appointed enough Senators to overwhelm Liberal opposition to C-15. The Justice Minister has recently stated that, of all of the crime bills that got tossed in the garbage due to the prorogation of Parliament, C-15 is the one bill that is certain to be re-introduced. And he intends to re-introduce it in its original form. This time, a newly Conservative-friendly Senate may be able to get C-15 passed without amendments.
However, now, the Prime Minister is facing a culture – a younger, pro-cannabis legalization culture – from which the mainstream media have, arguably unintentionally, been protecting him (by focusing on issues such as the treatment of Afghani detainees instead of on such things as the possible extradition to the USA of Canadian cannabis seed seller Marc Emery). He has three main choices (which means, I suppose, he faces a trilemma…but that doesn’t make for a very catchy headline):
- Don’t answer any of the cannabis legalization questions. This is certain to be a mistake; a mistake upon which the Liberal and NDP parties could easily pounce (especially the latter, which has been openly pro-legalization since NDP party leader Jack Layton appeared on Marc Emery’s pot.tv internet television station in the fall of 2003). There are just so many ways for the opposition parties to spin it (see various ways, listed below)
- Answer the cannabis legalization question(s), but use one of the off-the-shelf, red-herring, lame responses. There are a predictable handful of those. Any opposition party leader worthy of having his job will easily be able to damage the Prime Minister’s credibility and honesty by simply showing that such answers are always red-herrings intended to hide the real reason for cannabis prohibition: fear of trade sanctions by the USA. See below for a list of typical pro-prohibition arguments, together with how the use of each demonstrates the dishonesty and untrustworthiness of those who use them.
- Defend cannabis prohibition, but do it by using the actual and truthful reason for which Canada continues to prohibit it. The real reason – one already admitted by the Prime Minster when he was opposition leader earlier in the decade, is that the U.S. federal government (under the Presidency of George W. Bush) has threatened to slow border crossings if Canada legalizes cannabis. In other words, the U.S. has threatened actions that, in theory, could reduce the profits of Canadian companies. The obvious responses for opposition parties who are awake at the switch: that Harper and the Conservatives are willing to expropriate, fine and imprison peaceful Canadians – to sacrifice them – so that a handful of Canadians owning companies can make bigger profits. Another: that the Conservatives care about sovereignty when it comes to defending various companies’ potential oil and gas profits in the artic, but that they care not a smidgen about sovereignty when it comes to the life, liberty and property of Canadian individuals.
In short: unless there is a drastic change in the rankings of questions posed and ranked by YouTubers, it is safe to say that the Prime Minister’s attempt to be hip, cool, forthcoming, and warm may unavoidably have achieved the exact opposite. On the other hand, a wise politician should never be afraid to reverse his policies – to change his mind – when, after a good consultation with the electorate, he has had a chance to reconsider and find his earlier position to have been wrong for the country.
The best move for Harper: say he has reconsidered, having consulted directly with Canadians and heard several novel and good comments about cannabis prohibition, and that he has changed his mind; say that regime change in the U.S. (Obama admits to having inhaled pot “frequently…that was the point”) has been another of his considerations. In short: turf C-15, and “Free Marc Emery” (i.e., decide against extraditing him to the U.S.). It will be a chronic badge of coolness for Harper and the Conservative camp, and a chance for Conservatives to undermine ever-present assertions that Conservatives don’t love Canada (or love America: often regarded as the same thing).
Interpretations of a Decision, by Harper, Not to Answer Cannabis Legalization Questions.
- That Harper is afraid of disappointing the religious right backbone of the Conservative Party;
- That Harper is a lapdog to the US government and fears saying anything that would cause the US to slow border-crossings (as was threatened by George W. Bush’s drug Czar, John Walters, in 2002-04 when the Senate was recommending legalization and the governing Liberals were openly proposing cannabis decriminalization). This argument has the double-impact of undermining Conservative rhetoric about being strong on sovereignty, and suggests that Conservatives care about sovereignty when it comes to some Canadian companies getting rich off of oil and gas reserves in the Arctic, but not when Canadians face extradition to an American system that punishes cannabis offenses more harshly than murder and rape offenses (for example, even though, under Canadian law, the few seed sellers who have been charged generally have received nothing but a small fine for their “crime”, Emery’s seed sales would give rise to the death penalty under U.S. federal law…Emery is protected from that fate only by Canada’s extradition laws, that prevent a Justice Minister from extraditing a person to a possible death sentence until guarantees are obtained that capital punishment will not be imposed upon the Canadian so extradited);
- That Harper – or Conservatives in general – are just plain uncool, too drunk to smoke cannabis yet somehow sober enough to govern, and more than a little cruel.
Ways to Rebut Any Red-herring Answers that Harper Gives to Cannabis Legalization Questions.
- Lame Response #1: that smoking cannabis is bad for you, so it is prohibited. This excuse is more than lame. It’s patronizing. Our government is our servant, not our nanny. Why does the government ban cannabis because of its alleged harmfulness, while not banning much more destructive and addictive substances, including alcohol and tobacco? Answer: the harmfulness of cannabis is a red herring; it is not, honestly, the the government’s true reason for banning cannabis.
- Lame Response #2: that cannabis is banned because, otherwise, children might smoke it. Equally lame: children smoke tobacco and drink alcohol, but we do not prohibit those substances, even though they are much more harmful to children, and they are addictive. Why? Answer: preventing children from smoking an allegedly harmful substance is not genuinely the government’s reason for banning cannabis.
- Lame Response #3: that we must prevent people from driving while under the influence of cannabis. Perhaps, but, as compared to the numerous drunks who have killed people with their cars, how often does anyone ever read of a driver killing someone with his car because he had been smoking marijuana? If dangerous driving is a basis for prohibition, why is alcohol not prohibited while cannabis is prohibited? Answer: driving while under the influence of cannabis is not genuinely the government’s reason for banning cannabis.
Any attempt to tell marijuana smokers that the above are reasons for prohibiting cannabis can only undermine Harper’s credibility, and undermine respect for the government in general. Any half-witted opposition leader should be able to use any such responses, by Harper, as:
- a general attack on the Prime Minister’s credibility;
- a basis for arguing that his real reasons for continuing to prohibit cannabis are based upon appealing to a clique of religious, or racist, or old-fashioned party loyalists;
- as a basis for arguing that the Harper government will make up any excuse in order to avoid appearing spineless in the face pressures from U.S. politicians serving the intellectually endarkened, banjo-playing, bible-thumping, constituencies of political forces in the states whose biggest fear remains the possibility that marijuana will be used to turn their good little lily-white daughters in to rap-loving mothers of children of “mixed race” (which racist fears were the origin of U.S. laws prohibiting marijuana…well, that and Jazz – music introduced to humanity chiefly by wonderfully talented “black” Americans in a time when “whites” expected “blacks” not to even glance at “white” women). [For the record: I don’t subscribe to the idea of dividing humanity into phenotypically-defined “races”. I’m a “one race: the human race” fella….and I don’t smoke the herb.]
(added March 12, 2010 at 2:05 PM)
It has been reported that three MPs in Canada’s Parliament – one from each of the Conservative, NDP, and Liberal parties (the only other party holding seats in Parliament is a Quebec-based secessionist party) – will be presenting petitions to Parliament demanding that Canada’s Justice Minister decide against allowing Marc Emery, a Canadian whose Canada-based mail order cannabis seed selling business was closed in July of 1995 pursuant to a U.S. warrant for the arrest of Emery and two of his colleagues, which was executed on Canadian soil by Canada’s RCMP. He paid his taxes, operated his business blatantly, was often featured on major Canadian national news programs as a cannabis seed seller, and was known by Canadian tax authorities to be deriving his $300k+ annual income tax payments from cannabis seed sales around the world, including the USA. Emery ran his seed selling business continuously from 1994 through 1995, with Canadian legislative, enforcement, and judicial branches knowingly leaving him to do so. He remains in Canada, awaiting a political decision by Canada’s Justice Minister – Rob Nicholson – as to whether or not to grant the USA’s request to have Emery extradited to the USA.
Emery is not charged with anything in Canada. Seed sellers in Canada – on the few occasions they have been charged – have received small fines rather than prison terms. Had Emery been on US soil when arrested, his activities – under US law – would permit the judiciary in the US to sentence him to the death penalty, or to spending the rest of his life in prison. Emery has claimed that there is a deal in place whereby, if extradited, he will serve 5 years in U.S. prisons. However, U.S. authorities will make no comment about whether such a deal exists.
For Harper, the timing of the petitions could not come at a worse time (assuming the cannabis legalization question remains the #1 question posed by YouTubers). On the heels of hearings about the abuse of Afghani detainees – hearings that effectively were ended by the Harper government’s decision to prorogue Parliament – not answering questions about cannabis legalization only one day after these three petitions have been supported by MPs from all three parties could lead to further accusations that the Harper government regards itself as above the law, and as being both afraid of and exempt from public accountability.
Stay tuned. Tuesday promises to be interesting.