Canada recently became the second country in the world to fully legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. While it is still too early to tell exactly what effects the legalization of this drug will have on society, one thing is for sure: it is a step in a promising direction.
Justin Trudeau’s Liberals decided to legalize marijuana for reasons that include its effects on crime and safety. An unstated but equally important factor in the government’s decision was the broad popularity of the proposal. While decriminalizing marijuana is certainly a step, it isn’t a leap. The same reasons given by the Liberal government for legalizing marijuana could be used to justify proposals to decriminalize other drugs. However, taking a step was as far as the current government was willing to stretch its neck, partly due to the issue of public popularity.
One key reason Justin Trudeau gave in favour of the legalization of marijuana was the positive effects it would have on crime. Legalizing marijuana will supposedly help take power and money out of the hands of criminals that currently capitalize on the illicit drug to rake in millions.
These issues extend far past marijuana, however. The reasons given by Trudeau to justify legalizing marijuana apply evenly on all drugs. Improvements could, in theory, be had by legalizing and responsibly regulating all illicit drugs. Marijuana has been among the most popular drugs bought and sold illegally for recreational use. Legalization therefore signified major losses for illegal drug dealers, who may have been encouraged to start pushing other drugs, such as cocaine, in order to maintain their lucrative business.
If all drugs were to be legalized and regulated, it would leave illegal drug dealers with no option, economically forcing them to cease their illegal activity. The elimination of the economic incentive attached to drug dealing is a main reason the Trudeau government wanted to legalize marijuana. Extrapolating the evidence provides a clear argument that a similar policy path for all drugs could be beneficial to Canadian society.
Another reason for which marijuana was legalized in Canada that could transfer over to other drugs is safety. A quick glance at the idea of legalizing all drugs might lead one to believe that it would incentivize people to start abusing drugs. In practice, however, the opposite effect takes place. When Portugal, a country that used to have a serious drug abuse problem, decriminalized all drugs, it actually cut the number of overdoses significantly. While the drug and political climate is very different in Canada today than it was in Portugal 17 year ago, Canada does have an issue with drug abuse – particularly with opioids like fentanyl.
While the federal government is showing responsiveness, I can’t help but wonder if this epidemic would have even occurred in the first place if the drugs were legal. When people have open access to a substance and end up developing addictions, they are treated like people with an illness—addiction—and not like criminals that both obtain and consume their drugs of choice illegally. If someone becomes addicted to a drug, shoving them into a cell alongside real hardened criminals will not solve anything. Why, then, in Canada, do we choose to only half-solve the problem?
A final reason for which marijuana was legalized in Canada was its popularity. The reality is that people smoke weed. One could even comfortably argue that many people smoke weed. While cutting down on crime and increasing safety seem like logical reasons for decriminalizing marijuana, the fact of the matter is that if it weren’t for its popularity, the issue would never be addressed.
This is likely part of why the Trudeau government refused to consider legalizing more illicit drugs. While legalizing all drugs may be viewed as a bit of an extreme move, especially for a brokerage party such as the Liberals, it is hard to refute evidence that at least decriminalizing certain select drugs such as fentanyl that cause extreme harm to many communities in Canada would be a good thing. As such, it is evident that Justin Trudeau decriminalized marijuana but not other drugs not because decriminalizing other drugs is a bad idea, but because it’s not yet a widely popular one.
It is clear that Trudeau’s Liberals legalized marijuana due to its effects on crime, the resulting increase in safety, and its popularity as a policy position. It is also clear that the stated benefits of reduced crime and increased safety can be easily extrapolated to justify the further decriminalization of drugs – beyond just marijuana. Ultimately, it is only the lack of popular support for further decriminalization that leaves it frozen as a hypothetical idea.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.
Feature image via Pixabay.