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Stephen Harper's Most Memorable Marijuana Moments

Now that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's plans to legalize and regulate recreational cannabis use are beginning to get underway, it seems fitting to look back on Trudeau's predecessor - Stephen Harper - and his efforts to uphold marijuana prohibition. Harper - who turns 57 today - was arguably the face of prohibition in Canada for the last 10 years. Here are some of the lowlights from his war on cannabis.

1. Dream of decriminalization deferred

After a decade of rule under Stephen Harper, it's hard to believe that Canada nearly decriminalized marijuana in the early 2000s. Back in 2002, the Liberal government's Throne Speech pledged to decriminalize marijuana possession. But the decriminalization bill died in the House when Jean Chrétien prorogued government in preparation for Paul Martin to succeed him as prime minister in 2003. Martin tried to revive the issue, but it died again when his government fell and was replaced by Stephen Harper's Conservative regime in 2006.

2. Tough on crime agenda

Stephen Harper quickly turned Canada in the opposite direction of drug reform. One of the top priorities on his legislative agenda was passing mandatory minimum sentences, which forced judges to impose certain punishments regardless of context in a specific case. Harper's new laws included minimum sentencing for non-violent, marijuana-related crimes.

But the tough-on-crime era is already fading away. In September 2015 - when Harper was still prime minister - Ontario Superior Court Justice Bruce Durno struck down mandatory minimum sentences for growing marijuana illegally. Then in April, the Supreme Court of Canada threw out Harper's mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders. And more laws could be repealed as Prime Minister Trudeau has tasked Justice Minister Jody WIlson-Raybould with reassessing Harper's sentencing reforms.

3. Harper blames himself for popularizing drugs

When Harper announced his plans to fight marijuana and other banned substances with mandatory sentencing laws, he identified culture as the primary obstacle in the way of a drug-free society. And he identified himself as part of the problem in a bizarre tangent about the legacy of 60s culture.

"What we are up against is a culture that since the 1960s has, at the minimum, [encouraged] drug use and often romanticized it, made it cool, made it acceptable," Harper said at a press conference in 2007. "I don't say all these things blamelessly. My son is listening to my Beatles records and asking me what the lyrics mean. You know, it's just there. It's out there,. I love these records and I'm not putting them away. But that said, there has been a culture that has not fought drug use. And that's what we're up against."

Check out the full speech and see if you can make sense of his position.

4. Marijuana will never be respectable

Back in 2010, Harper took questions from YouTube users, who wanted to know what he thought about a poll showing that the majority of Canadians wanted the government to legalize marijuana. The former prime minister wasn't swayed by public opinion on the issue.

"The reason drugs are illegal is because they're bad. And even if these things were legalized, I can predict with a lot of confidence that these would never be respectable businesses run by respectable people because of the very nature of the dependency they create, the damage they create, the social upheaval and catastrophe they create."

Not so, according to the account of John Stinson the CEO of Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, who visited Colorado dispensaries in March to learn about the recreational marijuana market. "I was encouraged that there could be a retail model for recreational marijuana that keeps younger people safe, that allows us to control age access in a very deliberate way," Stinson told CBC. Meanwhile, Business Insider reported that dispensaries in Colorado are just like any other retail store.

Here's Harper's full response.

4. 'Do I seem like I smoke marijuana?'

During a press conference on the campaign trail in September 2015, a reporter asked Harper if he had ever tried pot. "Do I seem like I smoke marijuana?" he quipped, making other journalists in the room laugh.

But according to the results of the inaugural Civilized Cannabis Culture Poll, the average cannabis consumer in America is a highly educated, employed homeowner with children and an income of $75,000 or more. So, yes, Stephen. You do seem like someone who might smoke marijuana according to our results.

Here's Harper explaining why he avoided cannabis in his youth.

5. Science goes up in smoke

Reporters laughed with Harper when he joked about his own marijuana use. But journalists, activists and average Canadians should have laughed at Harper when he claimed that marijuana was "infinitely worse" than tobacco during the 2015 federal election. It made him look out of touch with Canadians, as well as science on the marijuana issue.

Here's his full statement.

6. Harper impersonates Ringo

We've saved the best for last. Harper - one of Canada's most outspoken supporters of prohibition - once sang a song about cannabis. During a 2009 gala at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, the former prime minister teamed up with Yo-Yo for a rendition of The Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends" - including the "I get high" lyric. Play us off, Stephen.

h/t The Globe and Mail, The National Post, CBC


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