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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How Ignatieff can improve on his stagnant support in one word: Marijuana

Michael Ignatieff 's Liberals are the only viable national alternative to the governing Conservatives, but they remain stagnant in the polls. The ex-Oxford professor is smart but uncharismatic, and lacks the common touch that politicians like Jean Chretien and Bill Clinton were able to make long political careers out of.

Stephen Harper, no Mr. Excitement himself, has created the impression that he has preserved our economic standing through hazardous global upheavals, and compared to Ignatieff, he's practically Harrison Ford in popular appeal.

But the Conservatives have some wonky, anti-libertarian, nanny-state policies ripe for exploitation by the Liberals, if only they had the courage to take them on.

One of these is Harper's antiquated, uninformed marijuana policy.

Police chiefs all over Canada realize that enforcing marijuana laws is impractical and pointless. Cops themselves (even the ones who don't smoke pot) don't take marijuana possession seriously as a crime, while most people who understand its effects know that it is far less damaging to society than alcohol.

Stoned drivers aren't responsible for thousands of traffic accidents and fatalities every year. Stoned members of the public aren't likely to be hyper-aggressive and pick bar fights. While the government treats the public as adults when it comes to alcohol consumption, it makes a hefty profit for public coffers through related taxes and jobs at the same time. But in the case of marijuana, we have paternalistic laws that are a waste of  money and resources to enforce, to no real avail, and benefit no one but criminals who sell contraband.

It might be Ignatieff's only chance to stand out and shift the public debate to an area where he can go on the offensive if he were to attack Harper's unsound position on cannabis laws. We know just about every Canadian politician who supports legal sanctions against marijuana is a hypocrite who has partaken of the weed at some point.

Rather than enforcing anti-marijuana legislation that creates criminals while benefiting crime lords, why not legalize and tax it, creating jobs for Canadians and a new source of government revenue?

The only demographic group that has given the Liberals a lead over the Conservatives in polls is the under 25 year-olds. But this age group is traditionally unexcited by politics and is the most likely not to bother to vote. If Ignatieff were to propose legalizing and taxing marijuana, he could latch on to an issue that actually would excite and motivate that demographic group.

If he has the guts to take that step remains to be seen. I'm not betting on Ignatieff doing that, but if he did, it would make the May 2 election a lot more exciting than being just a question of whether Stephen Harper gets a big or a small majority government.


Anonymous said...

From a purely political perspective, it would help Ignatieff a lot to reach out to libertarians where he can. So far most of us gravitate to Harper by default as the lesser of two evils. Ignatieff couldn't win all of us, but he could split a key element of Harper's base *and* syphon off young Green and NDP supporters in the process.

But yeah, I don't think he'd do it, and I'm not sure it would be enough to steal the libertarian vote. (I know it would make me think twice, but I'd still probably vote Conservative anyway.) Worth a shot though.

Unknown said...

It seems a no-brainer to legalize and tax pot but let's not forget the influence that our neighbours to the south have on this issue.

Just ask Mark Emery about that...

Richard K said...

When you're as far down in the polls as Ignatieff, you have to take a few risks.

Some of the American establishment might not like it, but the current Administration is less likely to be threatened by this than others. I mean, as if Obama never blew a doobie..And the US still does business with the Netherlands.

In any case, proposing sane pot laws would give Ignatieff an opportunity to show how he's willing to stand up to the US, and it would make Harper look weaker if he expressed defying them as a fear.