Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau laid out a compelling argument for nationwide cannabis legalization Wednesday at an economic conference in Toronto. But unlike many pro-cannabis politicians, he seemed unconcerned with the promise of tax revenue or job growth. Instead, he said legalization was about protecting children:
Look, our approach on legalizing marijuana is not about creating a boutique industry or bringing in tax revenue, it’s based on two very simple principles:
The first one is, young people have easier access to cannabis now, in Canada, than they do in just about any other countries in the world. [Of] 29 different countries studied by the U.N., Canada was number one in terms of underage access to marijuana. And whatever you might think or studies seen about cannabis being less harmful than alcohol or even cigarettes, the fact is it is bad for the developing brain and we need to make sure that it’s harder for underage Canadians to access marijuana. And that will happen under a controlled and regulated regime.
Fair point — and one that’s been supported time and time again as more research streams in showing that legalization doesn’t lead to teen use.
The other piece of it is there are billions upon billions of dollars flowing into the pockets of organized crime, street gangs and gun-runners, because of the illicit marijuana trade, and if we can get that out of the criminal elements and into a more regulated fashion we will reduce the amount of criminal activity that’s profiting from those, and that has offshoots into so many other criminal activities. So those are my focuses on that.
I have no doubt that Canadians and entrepreneurs will be tremendously innovative in finding ways to create positive economic benefits from the legalization and control of marijuana, but our focus is on protecting kids and protecting our streets.
The Washington Post’s Christopher Igraham called Trudeau’s argument “one of the more buttoned-down, straight-edged arguments for legalization I’ve heard in recent years” — in a good way. The reasons Trudeau gives for ending prohibition, Ingraham argues, are the kind that everyone, not just cannabis consumers, can get behind.
While many pro-legalization politicians back up their legalization stances with the benefits regulated cannabis could potentially bring, Ingraham writes, Trudeau’s argument centers on reducing harm. “He starts from the same place that many legalization opponents start from — concern for the children.”
Trudeau’s statement is a sign of something else, too. As we learn more about legalization’s success shrinking the black market, and as we start to amass data showing that regulated cannabis doesn’t lead to higher teen use rates (and may actually reduce them), it’s clearer and clearer that legalization isn’t a special interest — it’s a public interest.