ELECTION 2015: Federal candidates discuss marijuana plans

The Liberal mandate is to both decriminalize and legalize marijuana. Johnston said marijuana is a social, rather than criminal issue.

Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks has been a strong advocate for the continued criminalization of marijuana since being elected in 2011.

While addressing the House of Commons on June 2nd, he panned Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for his plan to legalize marijuana if elected.

“The Liberal plan to legalize and normalize marijuana sends a message to youth that smoking marijuana is not only an acceptable activity but is one endorsed through government regulation,” Wilks said. “The Liberal leader’s policy is irresponsible. It ignores marijuana’s lasting and serious health effects.”

Wilks’ stance is to continue restricting access to marijuana. He chairs the Conservative Law Enforcement Caucus and was instrumental in proposing changes to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, along with Minister of Health Rona Ambrose. The proposed changes would allow the Minister of Health and law officials to more easily control new drugs, combat illegal drug production and distribution, and more effectively ensure the compliance of the controlled substance industry.

Decriminalizing marijuana would involve allowing for personal use, but continuing to police the sale and manufacturing of the drug. Legalization would lift all laws banning possession and personal use of marijuana.

Don Johnston, the Kootenay-Columbia Liberal candidate, agrees with Trudeau’s plans.

He said that, whatever happens, something needs to be done quickly about the way marijuana is handled in this country.

“There was a recent World Health Organization study that found marijuana use among teenagers is higher in Canada than any other country,” Johnston said. “What the Conservatives keep talking about is trying to keep it out of the hands of children or teenagers. The current policy is clearly failing in that one important element.”

The Liberal mandate is to both decriminalize and legalize marijuana. Johnston said marijuana is a social, rather than criminal issue.

“It is very expensive to incarcerate people, especially people who are not a risk to society,”

Johnston said.

Johnston referenced the United States as an example of change occurring around marijuana legislation that is happening nearby. Twenty three states have decriminalized marijuana and four have fully legalized it to date.

“If you had told me five years ago that the United States would be leading Canada in terms of its thinking and legislation around marijuana, I would have been stunned by the notion,” Johnston said.

NDP candidate Wayne Stetski is also in favour of decriminalizing marijuana, though his approach to changing policy around the drug is far less aggressive than Johnston’s. Stetski said he is not in support of legalizing the drug at the federal level until it is clear what effects such a policy would have.

“Decriminalizing at this points lets me then see how the legalization of marijuana would likely go and what the issues are around that for communities,” Stetski said. “Ultimately, it is (in) communities where you will find the impact.”

He said in the short-term decriminalization is necessary to address overpopulation in prisons.

“I do not think our court system and our jails are used effectively when you are dealing with relatively minor charges associated with marijuana,” Stetski said. “Looking at the recent decisions, our laws are currently out of step with where the Supreme Court of Canada seems to be going with their thinking.”

The Supreme Court recently made a landmark decision by concluding that consumable forms of marijuana must be allowed for patients seeking medical marijuana. This decision has already made marijuana more accessible for patients looking to use it.

Bill Green, the Green Party candidate for the Kootenay-Columbia riding, is also in favour of both legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana, in line with his party’s longtime stance. The party’s plans go beyond simply removing laws against possessing and manufacturing the drug.

“We are talking about legalizing it in general and then associating it with research and education about risks and benefits,” Green said. “We are calling for studies in a medical context so doctors can prescribe it as a drug in the regulated drug system.”

He said not enough has yet been done to fully understand the potential impacts of marijuana as a clinical drug. Moving forward, he wants to promote education around the positives and negatives associated with marijuana.

Valley residents will get to decide  their stance of marijuana in the October 19th federal election when they vote for which candidate to officially support.