Canadian pot activists celebrate U.S. votes on legalizing marijuana

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics
Canvasser Jenny Smith leaves campaign flyer to drum up support for Oregon's Measure 91, which would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Portland, Oregon October 28, 2014. Voters in the U.S. capital and two West Coast states will decide in the Nov. 4 elections whether to legalize marijuana, pushing closer to the mainstream a notion that was once consigned to the political fringe. Ballot initiatives in Oregon and Alaska would set up a network of regulated pot stores, similar to those already operating in Colorado and Washington state. A measure in the District of Columbia would allow possession but not retail sales. If successful, the ballot initiatives could build momentum for legalization in other states and force candidates in the 2016 presidential election to take a stand on the issue. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola (UNITED STATES - Tags: ELECTIONS POLITICS DRUGS SOCIETY)

Pot activists in Canada are celebrating today.

Some of them actually appear to be in a state of euphoria, thanks to the residents of three jurisdictions in the United States who voted in favour of liberalizing marijuana laws.  

In ballot initiatives as part of that country’s mid-term elections on Tuesday, voters in Alaska and Oregon decided to join Washington and Colorado in legalizing the drug; in Washington D.C., voters approved the possession of cannabis for personal use.  

Dana Larsen — the man who spearhead the decriminalize marijuana petition drive in British Columbia last year —  suggests that the U.S. referendum results buoy the ‘legalize movement’ in Canada. 

"I’m very happy today. It’s pouring [rain] outside but that’s okay, it’s sunshining in our hearts," he told Yahoo Canada News, in a telephone interview from Vancouver.

"The final argument from prohibitionists in Canada has always been ‘if you legalize it, America will punish us…they’ll shut down our border’ That’s always been the last refuge of the prohibitionists. [President] Obama is not even punishing his own states for legalizing it. 

"It will definitely make it much easier [for a future Canadian government to legalize it.]"

[ Related: Pro-pot group Legalize Canada looking to support candidates for 2015 election ]

The Liberal Party —  the only major political party in Canada committed to legalizing marijuana —  also seemed pleased with the results. 

"Last night, voters in Oregon, Alaska, and Washington DC expressed their democratic will and supported the legalization of marijuana," a party spokesperson told Yahoo Canada News.

"A well-regulated, legal system for marijuana access promotes public safety, keeps profits out of the hands of gangs, and helps keep drugs out of the hand of children — exactly what Liberals have been saying all along.”

[ Related: B.C. court ruling on edible marijuana opens the door to expanding medicinal uses ]

Meanwhile, Dr. Dan Malleck, Associate Professor in the Department of Health Sciences at Brock University, says that while the outcomes of the votes will certainly “strengthen a push for legalization in Canada”, it’s difficult to say what legislative impact they could have.

"In a way it is ‘normalizing’ legalization, which up until a few years ago was not discussed at all," Malleck, the author two books — Try to Control Yourself: The regulation of public drinking in post-Prohibition Ontario and of “When Good Drugs Go Bad: Opium, Medicine, and the Origin of Canada’s Drug Laws,”  told Yahoo Canada News.

The Ontario-based professor adds that he’s looking forward to see how each of the states administer their programs.

"Whereas Colorado and Washington State had fairly similar approaches to legalization, these three new outcomes are fairly diverse approaches," he said.

"To me Oregon’s is the most compelling, because it is using an existing control board  the Oregon Liquor Control Commission  to oversee cannabis legalization and distribution. That is interesting because now we can see more private-sector approaches like what happened in CO and WA compared to one that uses an existing state apparatus.

"In Canada our liquor control systems began as state control (and most still are) so it would be a reasonable model to follow—the apparatus is already there.  However, legalization would need to be a Federal thing in Canada, whereas the liquor distribution system is provincial."

The new pot laws are expected to come into effect by February 2015 in Alaska and July 2015 in Oregon. 

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