Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,
A little over a decade ago a wandering federal government stuck its finger to the wind to see what would carry them back to power in the next election. It openly dithered with the idea of decriminalizing marijuana only to make a half-hearted attempt that was doomed to fail. As a result of this irresponsible attempt to gain popular favour, police officers commonly encountered confused young people who believed that decriminalization was all but a done deal. Unfortunately, many of them now have criminal records. Considering, therefore, the still-present legal implications of its use, and considering the ever-present health implications of its abuse, I ask, sir, that your government tread carefully so as not to make light of what is a serious issue.
Leadership tone matters
As your government moves forward with the legalization of marijuana, allow me to remind you that tone matters. In this respect, I believe your government has gone off course, and it would do well to correct it. It began prior to the formation of your government, when, without regret, you casually admitted to using marijuana as an MP. The problem, sir, is not that you once used marijuana, as have a significant number of Canadians. The problem is your casual acceptance of its use while it constituted a criminal offence and while you occupied a position of public trust as an elected Member of Parliament. Men and women in positions of public leadership are and should be held to very high standards of behaviour before the law. Your belittling of a standing law for reasons of personal choice and private pleasure can certainly be interpreted by ordinary citizens as an endorsement to do the same.
Prohibition has failed, but notwithstanding this…
The prohibition of marijuana has undoubtedly been a massive failure. It is more accessible than ever. It is more affordable than ever. Its quality is uncontrolled; it is often highly potent and laced with chemical substances. It empowers organized crime. It leads to violent turf wars. It clogs up our judicial system. And in the end, we can’t even keep it out of our prisons, much less society at large.
Notwithstanding this failure, and in spite of the reasonable arguments in favour of marijuana decriminalization and legalization, the non-medical abuse of it remains a poor personal choice. At the very worst, it leads to psychological dependence, the use of harder drugs, and the triggering of mental illness. At the very least, it clouds the mind; it stifles ambition; and it retards personal development, leaving one in a permanent state of adolescence. In short, making something permissible does not make it a good idea.
Though your party’s website appears to support the above affirmation of truth, I fear it has been diluted and lost as a result of the mixed message you have sent. It means little for a public official to state such concerns if he simultaneously and unrepentantly excuses his own recreational drug use while holding public office.
In the hope that they make good and healthy decisions, families, schools, and the medical establishment will soon have the responsibility of educating youths on this matter without the help of the force of law. Given the fact that marijuana use is certainly a first step to its potential abuse, and in light of the many health concerns associated with the abuse of drugs, the last thing young Canadians need is an endorsement for marijuana use from a highly popular, youthful trend-setter like yourself.
Right message required for young Canadians
Prime Minister, I am not without sin. I do not condemn you for being tempted, nor do I condemn you for giving in to temptation. I do, however, believe that as your government moves forward with this project, a sincere and public acknowledgement of this error in judgement would be wise. Considering the great power and trust that has been vested in you, and considering the influence you now hold, it would go a long way in setting the right tone and in sending the right message to young Canadians.
(Kevin Richard is a freelance Quebec journalist and a Discourse Online contributor. A version of this article first appeared in the January 20th online edition of the Montreal Gazette.)