Candidates in the election weeds

Perspectives on marijuana legalization in this new Courtenay-Alberni riding

Local federal candidates discuss marijuana legalization and medical use.

Local federal candidates discuss marijuana legalization and medical use.

With a recent Supreme Court decision and a dispensary that came and went from downtown Parksville, marijuana is a hot local topic in this federal election.

Candidates in the new Courtenay-Alberni riding that includes Parksville Qualicum Beach, lean to the decriminalize or even legalize side of the spectrum.

“I don’t think you want to stigmatize or criminalize people for youthful indiscretions,” said current Conservative MP and Government Whip John Duncan.

He said he hasn’t given the topic a lot of thought, but “The fact is for users, marijuana has largely been decriminalized,” and that his “government’s position on marijuana is actually striking a very good balance.”

“I think it’s a recognition of societal acceptance of the status quo.”

Others charactarize the government’s position differently.

“(Prime Minister Stephen) Harper’s pot policy is reckless and it’s driven by ideology,” said NDP candidate Gord Johns.

“We will restore an evidence-based policy to government,” he said, touting his party’s 40-year stand in favour of at least decriminalizing.

“It’s been decades since we had a pragmatic discussion about this in Canada. It’s time for an adult conversation,” he said.

He said the NDP’s approach would include aggressive public health and education, harm reduction, funding research and establishing an independent commission on non-medical use of marijuana to help guide Parliament.

“The war on drugs has been a right wing tactic for years,” said Dan Olson, campaign manager for Liberal candidate Carrie Powell-Davidson.

“The issue on everyone’s minds is, how to keep it out of the hands of children,” he said, explaining the Liberals would “turn it from a tax liability to a tax asset.”

Speaking on behalf of the candidate, Olson said legalizing it would allow the government to control it like the government does with alcohol, making it easier to keep away from kids and “freeing up the police to address crime.”

“We’re fully in support of legalization, beyond just decriminalization,” said Green Party Candidate Glenn Sollitt.

He said the negatives people talk about from legalization initiatives in various U.S. states are proving untrue.

He said the Green Party position, like all but the Conservatives, is to legalize and tax heavily like alcohol. They would then use some of the money for education and to help prevent youth from getting a hold of it.

Sollitt said evidence only points to negative effects before the age of 25, but added that, while they would legalize it for recreational use, “the real benefit will be making sure it’s accessible for medical purposes and unleashing our scientists on it,” to explore medical uses.

“That’s where the big payoff is.”

He called the current government’s approach “ridiculous, antiquated, not working and very expensive.”

And the current situation was greatly complicated by a June 11 Supreme Court decision allowing medical marijuana patients to use cannabis in edible forms.

“The current laws have been turned topsy-turvey by the Supreme Court,” said Duncan, adding he found the decision “bizarre and contrary to public health and safety and doing what’s right for kids.”

“I’m opposed to what that signals. I don’t know where we’re going to end up, because we have to respond to the Supreme Court.”

Johns said “the Harper government’s confusing and contradictory message around marijuana complicates things. The federal government refuses to set fair rules and we’re going to help clean that up.”

Duncan said in the meantime he’s happy with the RCMP cracking down on medical dispensaries, as they did with the Phoenix Pain Management Society in Parksville in April.

“In my opinion they’re illegal and I’m happy with the RCMP keeping them out of our communities and I’m hopeful our municipal councils hold the line on that.”