Americans and Canadians don't often see their federal politicians engage in extended conversations about cannabis. Most of them shy away from the controversial issue altogether, or give short, scripted answers and try to avoid follow-up questions.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is not like that at all, which is what makes him so impressive whenever he talks about why he believes legalization is important.
He makes familiar arguments about protecting kids and killing the black market, but he speaks with such ease and a sense of conviction that he inspires both confidence and a sense of connection with ordinary people - necessary ingredients for making the broader Canadian public embrace legalization. It's why he should remain Canada's front man on the issue, even if he has appointed MP (and former Toronto police chief) Bill Blair to be his point man.
Trudeau knows how to talk to people on the street
Check out this conversation from 2013 that has recirculated on social media since Trudeau's election win last fall. Trudeau fully - and fearlessly - engages a voter on an issue where there's sharp disagreement. He's pro-legalization, and she's an opponent with concerns about youth and people with addictions. Even though they have opposing viewpoints, they treat each other with respect and really talk it out - very impressive in an age where most politicians seem to have pre-screened and controlled conversations with voters and constituents.
He knows how to talk to reporters
Trudeau is very much at ease with reporters, gives extended answers to questions about his views on legalization. Sure, he has standard "talking points" like all politicians. Whether he's engaged in an impromptu chat with someone in a grocery store or talking to journalists, he repeats his practiced message about protecting youth and shutting down criminal organizations. This is precisely what he did during last year's VICE's election town hall, in response to a question from Damian Abraham:
Every year, millions upon millions of dollars are funnelled into criminal organizations, street gangs, gun runners, for the sale of marijuana. Indeed, for most law-abiding citizens, one of the only times they come into regular contact with a criminal is when they're actually trying to buy weed...We have a gray area and lack of federal leadership...that is putting our kids at risk.
But he's direct and elaborates on his points, and willing to participate in both back-and-forth informal conversations, or more formal question-and-answer sessions with journalists.
He's knowledgable and has a sense of humour
Trudeau has a complex, ever-evolving attitude toward legalization and cannabis itself.
He freely admits he's smoked pot a handful of times in his life - once since he become an MP. "We had a few good friends over for a dinner party, our kids were at their grandmother's for the night, and one of our friends lit a joint and passed it around. I had a puff," he told The Huffington Post in 2013.
Up until a few years ago, though, he actually opposed decriminalization. By 2013, he'd come around to supporting legalization, while not being a huge fan of cannabis himself. "I'm not someone who is particularly interested in altered states, but I certainly won't judge someone else for it," he said.
Nonetheless, he became an eloquent advocate for the cause, and confident enough to display a sense of humour in this 2013 video, where Mark Critch - a star of CBC's comedy show This Hour Has 22 Minutes - pulls out a joint in Trudeau's parliamentary office.
22 Minutes Star Asks To Smoke Pot With Justin Trudeau
Posted by Mike Anthony on Monday, October 26, 2015
How many prominent world leaders are familiar enough with the term hotboxing to make a joke about it?
For reasons like this, Trudeau is the perfect face for legalization, even if others lead the process that begin to unfold over the next few weeks.
He's a father and husband who says all the right things about protecting the country's young people; he's understanding and reassuring enough to connect with people who still have doubts (after all, he once had them himself).
And yet he's self-assured and knowledgeable about why legalization is important, which should make advocates feel confident he'll ultimately deliver on that commitment.
Mark Leger is the editor of Civilized. E-mail: [email protected]
banner image: Flickr / Prime Minister of Canada