Canada’s Liberal Party votes to legalise

Canada’s Liberal Party, the country’s oldest registered political party, has overwhelmingly adopted a policy of supporting the regulation and taxation of cannabis commerce, something New Zealand’s conservative government should also consider.

The Liberals have often been the governing party in Canada, and have previously attempted several times to introduce legislation to legalise, regulate and tax their multi-billion dollar cannabis trade.

At their latest annual conference the Liberals voted by 77% in favour of a resolution that says if they form a government they will “legalize marijuana and ensure the regulation and taxation of its production, distribution and use, while enacting strict penalties for illegal trafficking, illegal importation and exportation, and impaired driving.”

Under the motion, the Liberals also promised if they formed a government an amnesty for all Canadians previously found guilty of simple or minimal possession of marijuana and to clear the offenses from their criminal records.

The vote does not bind the party leadership to campaign on cannabis law reform, but is intended to give direction on policy positions the membership wants the party to take. The party’s Young Liberals, who sponsored the resolution, are pushing to make law reform part of the platform for the 2015 election.

The interim Liberal Party leader Bob Rae agrees, telling the conference prohibition has failed. “Do you really think it makes sense to be sending another generation of young people into prison when you realize that the most addictive substances that are facing Canada today are alcohol and cigarettes? Let’s face up to it Canada — the war on drugs has been a complete bust.”

John Key’s National-led goverment, which includes the Act “liberal” Party and the Maori Party, should take heed of this development. Act’s own youth wing (Act on Campus) is a strong supporter of repealing prohibition. Supporting the War on Drugs goes against typical right-wing values such as supporting individual freedoms and choice, encouraging personal responsibility, reducing the size and influence of government, and reducing taxation.

Prohibition encourages organised crime and wastes police resources, whereas regulating and taxing the cannabis trade would increase personal responsibility and reduce the size of government, while allowing problematic abuse to be more effectively addressed.

It’s also worth noting that support for cannabis law reform tends to increase with education and income levels.

The Fraser Institute, a conservative Canadian research group, performed a study in 2004 on potential revenues arising from legal marijuana and came up with a C$2-billion-a-year estimate. The study’s lead author, Stephen Easton, an economics professor at Simon Fraser University, said at the time “If we treat marijuana like any other commodity, we can tax it, regulate it, and use the resources the industry generates rather than continue a war against consumption and production that has long since been lost.”

The Liberal Party resolution is here.