Since Canadians elected pro-legalisation Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last October, the country has been on track to become the first G7 country to repeal marijuana prohibition - and the second nation to legalise marijuana (Uruguay being the first). Legalisation offers Canada, a self-described middle power in international politics, the chance to be a world leader.
In early February, the United Nations and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) - a group of legislators from around the world - held a conference in New York called "The World Drug Problem: Taking Stock and Strengthening Global Response." The meeting spotlighted attempts to combat the illegal drug trade around the globe.
Canada was represented by Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith (Beaches-East York), who is also the executive president of Canada's IPU contingent. He will also be representing Canada in an international tele-conference April 5 that will bring North American lawmakers together to discuss how marijuana should be addressed when the United Nations convenes the special session on narcotic drugs later this month.
After the February event, we reached out to Erskine-Smith to find out how the world is receiving Canada's new approach to marijuana, and the nation's potential to be a model for other countries. Here's what he had to say.
1. Enact progressive policies around home growing, criminal justice
As a backbencher, Erskine-Smith doesn't know what the government's regulations for marijuana will look like. But to put health, safety and social justice at the forefront (instead of profits), he hopes that Trudeau's regulations will include three things.
I. Tight restrictions on advertising: "Canadians should be treated as the responsible adults they are, but I think we have to be cognizant of the potential adverse health effects of increased marijuana consumption across the board. And as we move to regulate it would be prudent at the outset to limit commercial advertising."
II. The right to grow marijuana at home: "I think it's particularly important to combat the over-commercialization of the marketplace to allow for personal grow limits, whether it's two plants or five plants or six plants. I think that needs to be part of the discussion.
III. Clearing criminal records: "I also think we need to take a serious look at...[citizens] who have criminal records or are otherwise prejudiced by charges because of simple possession or perhaps even low-level trafficking (where there's no violence, no weapons and its marijuana only). We [should] look at making sure those records and charges are absolved."
2. Canada welcomed back into progressive fold
Canada's position on marijuana reform was generally well received at the conference, and many nations welcomed Canada back to progressive politics after the long tenure of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who opposed legalisation and was out of favor with the UN on many key international issues.
"I had any number of representatives from around the world come up to me after the debate and presentation to tell me it was incredibly nice to see Canada as a progressive voice at these sorts of events again," Nathaniel Erskine-Smith told Civilized.
Most countries appreciated Canada's message about marijuana reform. Those include members from the United Kingdom and Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs in 2001. But the most supportive of Canada's position was the first country to legalise marijuana. "Obviously, Uruguay spoke passionately in favor of a move toward harm reduction and a rational and sensible drug policy."
Legalization isn't embraced by all countries. "There were representatives from Nigeria, Sudan and Bangladesh and Pakistan that took opposite viewpoints [of Canada]."
3. Canada could be a model for global reforms
Legalization offers Canada a chance not only to be a world leader but a global role model. "I think if we get this right, then a lot of other countries will look to our model as an example," Erskine-Smith says. So no pressure, but it's up to the country to set a good example because the outcome of Canada's reforms could shape the way the rest of the world handles marijuana. To be a good role model, he says Canada has to, "make our regime more just and fair for individual Canadians, undermine the profits of organized crime and improve health consequences."
4. The next steps
While Canada works on legalization, the rest of the world has a chance to consider reforming international drug laws this April at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Narcotic Drugs (UNGASS). Erskine-Smith hopes activists and advocates will talk up Canada's approach as well as other models for drug reform ahead of that historic event.
"I think it's particularly important to have a world audience in advance of that to advocate for harm-reduction models and - in the case of marijuana - for a regime that emphasizes regulation, not criminalization."