Prime Minister Stephen Harper stumbled when he defended his government’s policies on the legalization of marijuana.
And his biggest fault may be in putting American concerns ahead of Canadian ones.
Legalizing marijuana in Canada would “cause us a great deal of trouble at the border with the United States,” he said in an interview with the Filipino Post.
“I don’t want to say they would seal the border. But I think it would inhibit our trade generally because they’re certainly not going to make that move (legalizing marijuana) in the United States,” he said. “I think as a cross-border phenomenon, this would cause Canada a lot of difficulty.”
Do we need permission from the U.S. to pass laws in Canada?
Never mind that cross-border trade has been a minefield, and one that the Harper government has been rather timid about.
The soft-lumber industry in Canada, for example, has been chastised by the U.S. government, which has demanded controls on our exports because we offer a cheaper deal.
The latest American-products-only campaign speaks volumes.
Then there was the U.S. ban on Canadian beef after a single case of BSE was discovered on an Alberta farm. Restrictions on our beef cost producers millions of dollars, driving many into bankruptcy.
Canadian beef producers scrambled to right the situation to appease the U.S. and prove our beef was clean.
And when the borders finally reopened to Canadian beef, U.S. producers still tried to block imports.
In each debate about trade, despite existence of the North American Free Trade Agreement, American interests seemed to overwhelm Canadian ones.
And much the same seems to be occurring now with the marijuana debate.
“Look, I know the drug trade is a frustration. I know it fuels a lot of criminal activities,” Harper said. “But I think . . . any body is fooling themselves if they think that somehow the drug trade would become a nice business if it were legalized.”
And so it would seem that Harper is not willing to listen to others, regardless of how persuasive the evidence might be.
We are, presumably, simply going to march to the American drum when it comes to the war on drugs.
Last week, four former Vancouver mayors signed an open letter urging politicians to consider legalizing marijuana, saying the policies will increase government revenue, remove illicit profits that lead to gang violence, and eliminate costly legal proceedings.
“This government doesn’t favour the legalization of drugs. Drugs are not bad because they’re illegal. They’re illegal because they are bad. They are corrosive to society. They’re part of worldwide criminal and sometimes even terrorism networks and they do terrible things to people.”
Yet alcohol and nicotine are legal in Canada, governments profit immensely from their sale, and the commerce surrounding those products is not dominated by criminal elements.
As well, Harper makes no distinction between marijuana and hard-core drugs like heroin, crystal meth and cocaine.
Nor does his stance reflect the reality that those drugs aren’t leaching into the U.S. via Canadian borders, they’re coming from Mexico, Afghanistan and Colombia.
It’s well past time that this country had an open discussion about legalizing marijuana.
The Canadian perspective just might be more constructive, and less costly socially and fiscally, than the American perspective.
Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.