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  (Curtis Lantinga)
  (Curtis Lantinga)

Margaret Wente

Pot still fails the sniff test Add to ...

After 4 1/2 years in a U.S. jail, marijuana crusader Marc Emery is returning to a hero’s welcome in Canada on Tuesday. Festivities are planned from Toronto to Vancouver, along with lots of bong.

In a jailhouse interview with Maclean’s magazine, the fearless freedom fighter vowed to wreak “political revenge” by working to elect Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and crush the repressive Conservative prohibitionists. His wife, Jodie, said she wants to run for the Liberals in B.C. “With marijuana being such a big issue, I think I could be a really good spokesperson to defend Justin Trudeau from all the attacks,” she told the magazine.

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God help Mr. Trudeau. With friends like these, he doesn’t need enemies. Despite the public adulation, Mr. Emery is among the most obnoxious jerks in Canadian public life. (And I say this as someone who thinks it’s past time to relax the laws on weed.) He’s a relentless self-promoter who’s compared himself to Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He insists that the persecution of people who smoke pot is the moral equivalent of the persecution of the Jews. In his most despicable moment, he called Irwin Cotler, the former federal justice minister, a “Nazi-Jew” for allowing the United States to extradite him. Mr. Cotler is a Liberal who campaigns passionately against anti-Semitism.

Mr. Trudeau would no doubt be happier if Mr. Emery were still in jail. But either way, the Liberal leader’s bold pledge to legalize marijuana doesn’t look like a winner. Liberals have been making fun of Conservative radio ads featuring an anxious mom who’s afraid that Justin will turn her kids into potheads. But the moms have a point. If weed is easier to get, more kids will get it. That’s Economics 101. Even experts who advocate legalization will tell you that.

In fact, although most Canadians want the laws relaxed, they remain wary about legalization. In a poll conducted earlier this year for the federal government, just over a third of respondents – 37.3 per cent – said they favour legalization. In focus groups, according to the pollster, there was “very little support” for legalization outside B.C.

Another third of poll respondents – 33.4 per cent – thought the possession of small amounts of marijuana should be decriminalized and treated with a fine, like a speeding ticket, rather than as an offence that merits a criminal record. This is the approach advocated by the nation’s police chiefs, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government adopt it.

Respondents also voted thumbs-down on commercialization. When asked whether “companies in Canada should be allowed to produce and promote the sale of marijuana just like tobacco and alcohol,” 42.4 per cent said yes, and 55.6 per cent said no. In other words, Mr. Harper’s worried moms accurately reflect the Canadian mainstream.

Like abortion and prostitution, pot is one of those values issues where elite and general opinion diverge. Highly educated liberal professionals tend to be highly permissive, and the vast unwashed less so. This is why, even though The New York Times has enthusiastically endorsed legalizing marijuana at the federal level, it won’t happen any time soon. That’s because Americans are backward, and even President Barack Obama’s government has to appease the conservatives. Or maybe it’s because Americans are tolerant, but think their kids have enough drug problems as it is.

Whatever the case, Mr. Emery isn’t yet on the right side of history. He’s no hero, either. If the media give him a free pass, shame on them.

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