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Why Activists Won't Be On Justin Trudeau's Legalization Task Force

Activists need not apply to the Canadian task force on legalizing marijuana, and that's not a bad thing says a political science professor paying close attention to the legalization process.

Once assembled by Bill Blair - Toronto's former Chief of Police and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould's current parliamentary secretary - the task force will advise the Trudeau government on the legalization bill that Health Minister Jane Philpott says will be introduced to parliament next spring.

Following that announcement, longterm activist and now dispensary owner Jodie Emery requested a spot on the task force as a representative of cannabis activists and consumers. At first, Philpott seemed open to the idea. On Apr. 25, she told Global News that she was not "ruling anything out" in terms of who will be asked to join the group.

But Blair poured cold water on the idea the following day, when he told Global that activists would get a chance to discuss their views with the task force, but they wouldn't be part of the group.

"I've assured those activists that their voices will be heard and they'll have an opportunity to provide their input to the task force, but the task force is primarily focussed on the science and the evidence and the best advice of experts that we can get going forward."

Emery responded with concerns that the task force will now be weighted with "traditional anti-legalization groups."

Meanwhile, Kirk Tousaw - an advocate and attorney who helped patients overturn Health Canada's ban on growing marijuana at home for medical use - criticized the decision more harshly.

"It is wrong to denigrate and exclude people who are passionately committed to an issue," he wrote in an open letter to Blair posted on Facebook. "Wrong and short-sighted," he added, arguing that the task force would likely lack credibility and effectiveness without the input of people involved in the industry.

But Nelson Wiseman - a professor of political science specializing in the Canadian government at the University of Toronto - wasn't surprised by the move. "That's how it works," he told Civilized. "Why should they put activists on [it]? The task force is to study the thing. They might not even have health officials on it. It might just be politicians and bureaucrats studying the issue."

Provinces and territories trump activists

The government likely believes that recruiting representatives from the Canadian provinces is more important than appeasing activists, according to Wiseman.

"They probably want people from the provinces and territories because the administration of the criminal code is provincial, so you want provincial governments to be involved. Also there's the taxation issue. Activists aren't involved in taxation issues."

Wiseman thinks that getting the right people from those regions is crucial to ensuring that every jurisdiction is onboard with the legalization regime.

"If a province is opposed unalterably to have anything to do with marijuana, they can say, 'We don't want anything to do with the task force. Get out of here.'"

But Wiseman doesn't think leaving off those who are clearly in favor - and those opposed to cannabis legalization - is a bad thing.

"What will be accomplished if a [pro-legalization] and a prohibition group are on the task force? When you just sit there and yell at each other? The task force is there to study the issue, to get input from interested parties - not from parties who already have firm positions...What you want [from a task force] is to send people out there and get input from various groups and put together a report with some recommendations."

He said activists disappointed with Blair's decision should keep things in perspective.

"I don't think they should be concerned or not concerned. I mean, let's see what happens. I think activists are cheered that the Liberals said they would do something - and that they would introduce legislation next spring. So that's something. Aren't you in a better position than you were a while back? Aren't you getting a bit antsy?"

An there's nothing stopping activists from forming their own voluntary committee to work on a report for the government.

"If you want to be part of a task force, set up your own task force about legalization and make recommendations," Wiseman said.

h/t CBC

banner image: Flickr / UN Women


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