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Meet The Unlikely Head Of Canada's Marijuana Task Force

For months, we've known that the Canadian government will form a task force to research marijuana legalization and offer advice on regulations for recreational sales and use. Now we're finally getting a sense of what it will look like. On June 2, The Ottawa Citizen reported that Bill Blair - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's "point-man on pot" - has tabbed Anne McLellan to head the task force.

The other members of the panel are expected to be named before parliament's summer break.

McLellan is a former Liberal MP (1993-2006) who served as Justice Minister (1997-2002), Health Minister (2002-2003) and Minister of Public Safety (2003-2006). Those three portfolios just so happen to be the same ones that Trudeau has picked to coordinate the logistics of reforming Canada's marijuana laws.

So McLellan is the ideal choice for this position in terms of qualifications. But marijuana advocates and consumers might not be thrilled with the selection given her previous stances on cannabis.

McLellan's legacy of stalled legislation

This isn't the first time McLellan has been tasked with reforming Canada's marijuana laws. In the 1990s, activists called on her to decriminalize marijuana for medical use. And in 1998, she was accused in the House of shirking her duty by dragging her feet on the issue. She deflected criticism by insisting that she needed time to give the issue serious consideration.

But the government didn't act until two years later, when their hand was forced by a ruling in the Ontario Court of Appeal that invalidated the prohibition of medical marijuana. McLellan didn't challenge the court's ruling, but she did refuse to supply marijuana to approved patients. She argued that the government should not be involved in dispensing cannabis until clinical trials could prove the drug was safe.

Under the medical marijuana regulations implemented during McLellan's tenure as Health Minister, patients had to grow their own medicine, have someone grow it for them or resort to the black market.

McLellan similarly dragged her feet on decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana for recreational use. When the Association of Canadian Police Chiefs called for decriminalization in 1999, McLellan said she would consider the issue. But there was little movement on the file until 2001, when Parliament passed a motion to create a committee to study decriminalizing recreational use of "soft drugs."

But, again, Parliament didn't act until compelled by a court ruling. In 2003, Ontario Court Justice Douglas Phillips ruled that the laws criminalizing simple possession of marijuana were invalid. The federal government responded by drafting two bills to decriminalize cannabis, but both died in the House. And plans to reform the laws were set aside when Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper became Prime Minister in 2006.

Turning a new leaf?

McLellan has been open to discussing decriminalization, but she has also spoken out against marijuana use. In 2005, she said, "We know [cannabis] is a more potent carcinogen than smoke tobacco. That's what the research tells us. That's irrefutable. That's science."

That sounds awfully similar to Stephen Harper's claim that marijuana was "infinitely worse" than tobacco. Activists and consumers can only hope she has turned a new leaf.

h/t The National Post, CBC

banner image: Shutterstock / Robert Park


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