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Justin Trudeau’s Canada Is A World Leader On Cannabis Reform. Will California And Other States Follow?

The legalization of cannabis was a peripheral conversation when we launched Civilized a year ago this week. Polls showed that the majority of Canadians supported legalization, but the party that shared this position (Justin Trudeau's Liberals) had a relatively small presence in the Canadian parliament. They were in third place after the governing Conservatives and Official Opposition, the New Democratic Party (NDP). Granted, Trudeau was doing well in the polls by then, but it wasn't clear he was going to win.

As the election approached we reported on Trudeau's position (Canadian Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau Promises To Legalize Cannabis) and even began to anticipate what might happen if he was elected. Canada One Step Closer To Legalizing Cannabis was our headline the day before the election. But even then we knew the road to legalization was complicated. Trudeau's Liberals were, at best, expected to win a minority government, which meant they wouldn't have full control of implementing their agenda.

I still remember watching the returns come in on election night. We were in the office, gathered around a live-stream of the results. The majority government shocked us, and we became giddy as the implications for legalization gradually became clear. We selected a triumphant picture of Trudeau, and wrote the headline for the lead story on the web site: 'Real Change' In Canada Includes Cannabis.

In the year since Trudeau was elected, Canadians have turned their attention toward the difficulties of legalization: The slow, methodical work of selecting a task force that must then make recommendations that will form the basis of legislation to create a legal recreational market next year; The ongoing controversy over "gray market" dispensaries that operate in small and large cities across the country.

It can be easy to forgot those early days after the election when Canadians (and people around the world) were eager for all news concerning Trudeau - be they Vogue photo shoots or plans for legalizing cannabis. 

Our top story of our first year of publishing (in terms of unique visits by readers) was Trudeau Gives Justice Minister Mandate To Legalize Cannabis, from November of last year. And the interest in stories about Trudeau and legalization that reported even small, incremental steps forward continued to perform well into the late fall and early winter. From November of last year to February of this year, the top two or three performing stories were all about Trudeau and legalization.

In Trudeau, Canada found a politician that truly embodied its progressive values. The country was already pro-legalization but it had had a conservative prime minister that wasn't in synch with an increasingly liberal general public - on a host of issues including gay rights, immigration and abortion rights. In the aftermath of Trudeau's win, we have a country that opens its arms to Syrian refugees and is on the cusp of legalizing cannabis. Very different issues, to be sure, but the same value-set informed both decisions.

When we launched last year, we were a month away from that momentous and irreversible shift in the Canadian government's position on cannabis - a change frankly none of us saw coming. Now, we sit a month away from the same kind of transformation taking place at the state level in the U.S., with five of them set to vote on legalization.

Legalization is poised to sweep the U.S.

This time, we know it's coming, with initiatives like the California one expected to win. And as longtime activist and writer Keith Stroup said in his conversation with Tess Allen for her piece, Cannabis Is Winning Over The Hearts And Minds Of The American Public, California could well be the tipping point for nationwide reform.

“If we win California this year, and we almost certainly are going to [along with] probably two or three or maybe even four other states, I don’t see any possibility of the policy ever going backwards," he said. "I think it’s just a matter of, over the next five, six, seven years, legalizing marijuana in the rest of the states.”

In poll after poll, Americans show their support for legalization; it's not overwhelming support, mind you, but it's strong. They just need politicians that align with their values (as happened in Canada), or who are forced to through ballot initiatives.

If that happens, and California and the other states vote yes November 8, the rest of America won't be far behind.

Won't that make for a great retrospective on our birthday next year?

Mark Leger is the editor of Civilized. As Civilized celebrates one year of publishing, we're reflecting on the stories and issues that resonated most with our audience in the past 12 months. This is one of series of posts that includes founder and publisher Derek Riedle's commentary, A Year Of Elevating Cannabis Culture.

Banner image: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Art Babych/


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