Liberal Senate Forum on Marijuana Draws Attention from Advocates

An open caucus meeting on cannabis legalization, organized by the Liberal senate, has attracted the focus of cannabis advocates who say the panel is unfairly stacked against cannabis.

The panel discussion, which is open to the public, is part of a series organized by the senate Liberals after being removed from the Liberal Party caucus in 2014 that allows the senators to debate government policy and social issues while not directly having input.

Senate legislative assistant and forum organizer Michael Delaney said the goal of the meeting is to allow all senators, regardless of party affiliation to have a nonpartisan discussion on issues facing Canada.

The cannabis panel is made up of Liberal’s cannabis legalization lead, MP Bill Blair, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police president Clive Weighill, two representatives from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and a representative from Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Delaney said, since posting information about the event, he has received feedback from the cannabis community who think the forum is officially sanctioned by the Liberal government.

“If Canadian legalization is going to be solely informed by police officers and policy analysts, then it’s going to be a crappy kind of legalization that won’t solve any of the problems associated with prohibition,” wrote cannabis activist Dana Larsen.

“Why is there no speaker from the cannabis community? Shouldn’t talks about legalizing cannabis , include experts on cannabis?” wrote another, under the screen name Nathan. “If you’re wanting to do this right, you should be including more people.”

Delaney said the outpouring of public interest prompted him to add a disclaimer to the event to distinguish that that the meeting is “separate from official government consultations and parliamentary Committee proceedings as the marijuana legislation is crafted.”

“This is not a meeting to discuss whether or not the government should legalize marijuana, but rather how to legalize it,” the message read. “As legislators who will be voting on this legislation in the near future, we are looking to inform ourselves and others on how to go about this in a responsible way that works and can last. We recognize that we cannot touch on all aspects of legalization during a two hour meeting.”

Delaney said with many interested attendees from the cannabis community (with some coming from as far as Vancouver to attend the discussion) the panel has added another speaker —  Oscapella and Associates Consulting president Eugene Oscapella, an advocate for marijuana law reform in Canada.

RSVPs for the Feb. 24 event are now full, but those interested can follow the discussion online at the Liberal Senate Forum’s Twitter account.