The recent victory in Canada by Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party, a landslide triumph that ended nearly a decade of rule by the Conservative Party, promises a significant change in the politics of Canada in a number of policy areas, including a boost in spending to stimulate the economy; raising taxes on the wealthy; and legalizing marijuana.
Stephen Harper, head of the Conservative Party, attempted to use marijuana legalization as a wedge issue against Trudeau in the recent campaign, making the rather bizarre claim that marijuana is “infinitely worse” than tobacco (an estimated 37,000 Canadians die each year from tobacco smoking). His allegation fell flat with the voters and likely helped Trudeau demonstrate the need for new, fresh and more innovative and honest leadership.
Trudeau has long favored the legalization of marijuana, publicly acknowledging his own past use of weed (including an admission of smoking when he was a member of Parliament). Shortly after the recent Liberal Party victory, he announced legalization would move forward as one of his top priorities. We share a common border stretching nearly 4,000 miles, and whatever occurs in the U.S. inevitably has an impact on Canada. It appears our domestic experience with marijuana legalization has favorably impacted attitudes in Canada, and they too are now ready for a tax and regulate regimen.
The First Prime Minister Trudeau
This needed change in Canadian marijuana policy reminds some of us of earlier times when Canada had a far more progressive and tolerant marijuana policy than the U.S., going back to the 1960s and 1970s, when Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, was the Prime Minister. Pierre Trudeau served as prime minister from 1968 to 1979, and again from 1980 to 1984. He was a dominant political presence who, with his glamorous wife Margaret Trudeau, was part of the fast-lane crowd during the 1970s, famously partying with the Rolling Stones; hanging-out at then-popular Studio 54 in New York; and, in a strange moment in a Washington Post news article, once publicly invited disillusioned young Americans to visit Canada, promising they would not be harassed if they brought along a couple of joints.
This was during the height of the anti-Vietnam War movement, when young Americans burning their draft cards and long hair and marijuana smoking were all part of the cultural rebellion that would transform American society and eventually bring that war to an end. Canada, and Pierre Trudeau, were generally opposed to the war, and supportive of U.S. draft resisters (offering them asylum in Canada) and others who were working to stop the killing.
Raising the “Pierre Trudeau Defense”
It was this public invitation to visit Canada that led me to raise the “Pierre Trudeau defense,” when I was busted with a joint entering Canada to give a college lecture in Calgary in the mid-1970s.
I was (obviously) not familiar with the rigors of international travel at the time, and had stuck a joint in the pocket of my sports coat to share with the students when the lecture was over. We usually went back to someone’s apartment after a college lecture, where the students would generally pass around a joint of whatever weed was available on the black market, at prices most students could afford, and frequently it was not high quality – what we might call “ditch weed” today. So I always enjoyed bringing a joint from my own stash – high quality homegrown – to share with the students, to let them experience the better marijuana that was available if one had the right connections on the black market.
As further evidence of my naiveté, I also was wearing a gold marijuana-leaf lapel pin on my sports coat, oblivious to the fact that the marijuana pin might well bring closer scrutiny as I entered the county. I almost made it through Customs without a problem, but at the last minute, one of the officers recognized my pin, and decided to stop me and search my pockets, where he found the joint.
As I was being taken into custody, a group of the students who were meeting me to take me to the lecture saw what was happening, and someone had the good sense to bring the lecture fee that I would have received, to use as bail, so I could get out of custody and deliver the lecture on schedule later that night.
When I returned in a few weeks to go to trial, my old friend Gerry Goldstein, a young Texas criminal defense attorney who was then heading Texas NORML, accompanied me as my attorney. Since we knew possession of a single joint in Canada would bring, at most, a slap on the wrist and a modest fine, we decided to engage in some street theater, and to make it into a show trial, at which we put on the “Pierre Trudeau defense”.
I was never quite sure why Trudeau had made that statement. Perhaps he simply wanted to demonstrate how hip he and his wife were, since they were known to have smoked marijuana with the Rolling Stones at some point. Regardless, it sure sounded like something that might help me justify my actions in Canada, and it would surely make good theater for the media.
So attorney Goldstein first introduced a copy of the Washington Post article into evidence, and then had me take the stand, and under oath, say I admitted bringing the joint into Canada, but insisting that I had done it on the reliance that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had assured me (and other young Americans) that we would not be hassled.
It was obviously not a legal defense, but it did have a certain appeal to the media, and seemed to further NORML’s position that there is nothing wrong with smoking pot.
The judge saw the humor in what we were doing, and allowed us to put on our defense, but then convicted me (on my own testimony), imposed a modest fine, and sent me on my way home, none the worse for wear. It had been exhilarating to challenge the system, and we felt we had successfully pushed the policy envelope by being so out-front and unapologetic about my marijuana smoking.
Busted Again, On the Way Out of the Country
But then things turned ugly. On our way through customs as we were leaving the country, still beaming from the fact that we had pulled-off our legal street theater without harm, the Canadian customs officials found an empty one-gram cocaine vial which I had inadvertently left in my shoulder bag, with trace amounts of cocaine still in the bottle, and I was taken back into custody. Suddenly, this little Canadian joke did not seem so humorous, and especially not to the prosecutor or the judge who had just allowed us to pull-off our stunt in his courtroom.
I was thrown in jail overnight, and the following morning Goldstein arranged for me to plead guilty to the new cocaine charge, pay a larger fine, and finally get out of the country, with a warning that I would never be permitted back into the country. (In fact, I have since been back to Canada on several occasions, so apparently someone saw fit to remove me from the list of banned travelers at some point.)
But all these many years later, when I hear the name Trudeau as the newly elected Prime Minister of Canada, I cannot help but smile as I remember the good-old-days, when a combination of youth and naiveté allowed us to live close to the edge, with little or no fear of the consequences.
Election day is around the corner but some legislators aren’t waiting for that to work towards reforming their marijuana laws. Keep reading to find out what happened this week in marijuana law reform.
To support the measures below, please use our #TakeAction Center to contact your state and federal elected officials! A full list and summary of pending state and federal legislation is available here. Summaries of the dozens of marijuana law reform bills approved this year is also available here.
NORML is currently in the midst of a week long Congressional Letter Writing Campaign Contest! To enter, contact at least two of your three representatives using NORML’s #TakeAction Center by clicking one of the five bills listed below. You can also use of our templates that can be found here. Then take a picture of your letter and post it to your Facebook or Twitter page using the #ActNORML hashtag so we know you’re participating in the campaign! Once the campaign comes to an end at 7PM MST on Tuesday, November 3, 2015, a random winner will be selected from Facebook and Twitter.
We’re excited to announce that we have partnered with High Times to offer a pair of Cannabis Cup tickets to two lucky winners who participate in our campaign!
CARERS Act: The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act, is pending in the US Senate to strengthen statewide medical marijuana protections and impose various changes to federal law.
Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act: This act removes cannabis from the United States Controlled Substances Act. It also removes enforcement power from the US Drug Enforcement Administration in matter concerning marijuana possession, production, and sales — thus permitting state governments to regulate these activities as they see fit.
Stop Civil Asset Forfeiture Funding for Marijuana Suppression Act: The DEA program distributes funds to state and local law enforcement agencies for the purpose of locating and destroying marijuana cultivation sites. HR 3518 reads, “[B]eginning in fiscal year 2015, and for each fiscal year thereafter, no amounts in the Fund may be used for the Domestic Cannabis Suppression/Eradication Program of the Drug Enforcement Administration, or any substantially similar program.”
Fair Access to Education Act: Presently, the Higher Education Act prohibits those convicted of a misdemeanor marijuana possession crime while enrolled in secondary education from being eligible to receive financial aid. This ignores the fact that using and possessing marijuana is legal in at least four states and the District of Columbia. This bill would “exclude marijuana-related offenses from the drug-related offenses that result in students being barred from receiving Federal educational loans, grants, and work assistance, and for other purposes.”
State Marijuana and Regulatory Tolerance Enforcement Act: Under this proposal, the US federal Controlled Substances Act would be inapplicable with respect to states that have legalized and regulated marijuana in a manner that addresses key federal priorities, such as preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors, violence or use of firearms in cultivation and distribution of marijuana, and drugged driving.
State Legislative Highlights:
Illinois: The Illinois General Assembly did not take action following Governor Bruce Rauner’s amendatory veto of House Bill 218. The bill is dead for the 2015 session, though reformers are hopeful that similar legislation will soon be pre-filed for 2016.
As originally approved by the legislature, HB 218 reduced penalties for the possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana to a civil violation punishable by a fine of $125. The measure also sought to amend the state’s zero tolerance law for those who operate a motor vehicle with trace levels of marijuana metabolites in their system.
Pennsylvania: Members of the Senate Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee have unanimously passed SB 50 to make industrial hemp a legal cash crop in the state of Pennsylvania. This bill is the companion legislation to HB 967, which members of the House Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee unanimously passed a few weeks earlier. Both bills will now be voted on by the full House and Senate.
Additional information for these and other pending legislative measures may be found at our #TakeAction Center!
** A note to first time readers: NORML can not introduce legislation in your state. Nor can any other non-profit advocacy organization. Only your state representatives, or in some cases an individual constituent (by way of their representative; this is known as introducing legislation ‘by request’) can do so. NORML can — and does — work closely with like-minded politicians and citizens to reform marijuana laws, and lobbies on behalf of these efforts. But ultimately the most effective way — and the only way — to successfully achieve statewide marijuana law reform is for local stakeholders and citizens to become involved in the political process and to make the changes they want to see. Get active; get NORML!
Beginning on Monday, October 26, 2015, NORML Affiliates and Chapters from across the country will begin contacting their representatives to urge them to support one of the seventeen marijuana-related bills introduced since the 114th Congress convened on January 3, 2015.
Over the past few months, NORML Affiliates and Chapters have demonstrated their ability to mobilize thousands of marijuana advocates from around the country so we hope all of you will join us in making this a successful campaign!
Project: NORML Congressional Letter Writing Campaign and Contest
Who: NORML Affiliates and Chapters
When: Monday, October 26, 2015 through Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Summary: Letter campaign targeting members of the House and Senate requesting their immediate support of pending marijuana-related legislation. We encourage the use of handwritten letters and emails.
Contest: We’re excited to announce that we have partnered with High Times to offer a pair of Cannabis Cup tickets to two lucky winners who participate in our campaign! By offering a contest, we hope to create some additional excitement around our 2015 Congressional Letter Writing Campaign, and in return, drive participation and engagement.
To enter, contact at least two of your three representatives using NORML’s Action Center by clicking one of the five bills listed above or simply use one of our templates that can be found here. Then, take a picture of your letter and post it to your Facebook or Twitter page using the #ActNORML hashtag so we know you’re participating in the campaign! Once the campaign comes to an end at 7PM MST on Tuesday, November 3, 2015, a random winner will be selected from Facebook and Twitter.
For more details about the contest, please click here for our Official Contest Rules!
Liberal Party candidate Justin Trudeau has defeated incumbent Prime Minister Stephen Harper to become Canada’s next Prime Minister. Trudeau’s win is expected to usher in a new wave of political priorities, with marijuana legalization nearing the top of the list.
From the Liberal Party’s website:
We will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana.
Canada’s current system of marijuana prohibition does not work. It does not prevent young people from using marijuana and too many Canadians end up with criminal records for possessing small amounts of the drug.
Arresting and prosecuting these offenses is expensive for our criminal justice system. It traps too many Canadians in the criminal justice system for minor, non-violent offenses. At the same time, the proceeds from the illegal drug trade support organized crime and greater threats to public safety, like human trafficking and hard drugs.
To ensure that we keep marijuana out of the hands of children, and the profits out of the hands of criminals, we will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana.
We will remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code, and create new, stronger laws to punish more severely those who provide it to minors, those who operate a motor vehicle while under its influence, and those who sell it outside of the new regulatory framework.
We will create a federal/provincial/territorial task force, and with input from experts in public health, substance abuse, and law enforcement, will design a new system of strict marijuana sales and distribution, with appropriate federal and provincial excise taxes applied.
In his quest to become Prime Minister, Trudeau actively campaigned on a platform that included taxing and regulating marijuana.
“What is very clear right now is that Mr. Harper’s current approach is making marijuana too easy to access for our kids, and at the same time funding street crime, organized gangs and gun runners,” Trudeau said.
The Liberal leader also said he would “work with the provinces to makes sure that the control and regulation of marijuana is done in a way that is responsible.” And he repeatedly stated, “”My focus is on making it more difficult for young people to access it.”
While a concrete timeline has not been provided as to when Canadians can expect a legal and regulated marijuana market, Trudeau has promised to get to work on the changes “right away”.
For more information please contact our NORML Canada chapter, here.
Every day NORML affiliates and chapters around the country pour countless hours into contacting representatives, hosting events, and talking to voters, all with the hope of passing meaningful marijuana reforms on the local, state and federal level! In an effort to highlight their hard work and accomplishments, we will feature their stories on NORML.org and promote the content through our social media channels.
State and Local
California NORML urges medical marijuana businesses to embrace new regulations by registering with California’s Board of Equalization and securing permits from local governments.
California Reacts to New Medical Cannabis Regulations
MassCann/NORML’s “Bay State Repeal Proposal”, a measure aimed at legalizing marijuana in 2016, was well received at this year’s Boston Freedom Rally. Volunteers worked hard gathering signatures over the weekend.
Canna Culture Column: MassCann’s Freedom Rally on the Common
Wyoming NORML utilizes both traditional and nontraditional tactics to push for medical marijuana in the Cowboy State! With just 26,000 signatures needed for their initiative to qualify for the November 2016 ballot, everyone is working overtime to get the job done.
How Receptive are Teton County Residents to Legalizing Weed?
Mid-Missouri NORML is leading an effort along with MU Students for Sensible Drug Policy and MU NORML to decriminalize the growing of marijuana in Columbia, Missouri. With only 2,567 signatures needed, volunteers are excited to get started!
Local Petition Seeks to Decriminalize Growing up to Six Marijuana Plants
Enthusiasm for legalization in Missouri is at an all time high as Springfield NORML, Show-Me Cannabis and New Approach Missouri ramp up their signature gathering campaign!
Marijuana Petition Campaigns Kicking Off in the Ozarks
After serving 22 years for the possession of marijuana, Jeff Mizanskey stopped by Springfield NORML to share some of the personal struggles he’s dealing with after spending a ? of his life behind bars.
Mizanskey Visits Springfield After Prison Release
Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML, shared his thoughts on the lack of banking opportunities for California’s soon to be legal marijuana industry and tried to dispel any fears about a new administration heavily enforcing federal marijuana laws.
New Regulations Don’t clear all the hurdles for pot dispensaries
Illinois NORML urged legislators to adopt new language for HB 218 that would have drastically reduced penalties for the possession of marijuana. Lawmakers ultimately passed the bill, but only after they increased some of the penalties defined in the bill.
Senate Return Delayed but Little For it to Do
Last week, national marijuana reform groups parted ways with Reform CA, California’s broadest based marijuana reform coalition. Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML, continues to vow his organization’s unwavering support for what he feels is a, “superior product”.
Trouble in La La Land: Late Divisions Emerge Among California Legalization Initiative Supporters
As things begin to heat up in the final weeks of the 2015 elections, Virginia NORML decided to jump in the fight for Virginia’s 24th House District by endorsing Ellen Arthur for House of Delegates.
Virginia NORML endorses Ellen Arthur in 24th District House race
Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, sat down with ATTN: to discuss what impact, if any, marijuana will have on the 2016 election. With conflicting data related to turnout in 2012 and 2014, it’s hard to predict if the youth vote will be a factor.
Marijuana Could Change the 2016 Election
Kevin Mahmalji is NORML’s national outreach and chapter coordinator