CANADA: As politicians of all stripes weigh in on the issue of legalizing marijuana, a new poll shows half of Albertans support the idea — and the sensitive question of whether public figures have smoked dope appears to have little impact on voters.
A survey of 1,208 Albertans conducted for the Herald by polling firm Leger found 50 per cent of respondents support legalizing marijuana, 39 per cent are opposed and 11 per cent don’t have an opinion.
“Legalization is the extreme version of decriminalization — and that half of Albertans say, ‘yes, legalize it’ — is surprising,” said Leger vice-president Ian Large.
“Under the circumstances, maybe it’s become so mainstream with politicians talking about it.”
The issue of legalizing marijuana — or the lesser step of decriminalizing its possession — has come to the fore recently with comments by federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau that he smoked pot several years ago while serving as an MP, and that his party would legalize it if elected.
Last month, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police called for officers to be able to give out tickets in cases of possession of smaller amounts of marijuana, instead of laying criminal charges. The idea was quickly dismissed by Premier Alison Redford, although Prime Minister Stephen Harper — while staunchly defending current drug laws — said Ottawa would look at the proposal.
Political scientist Chaldeans Mensah of Grant MacEwan University said the poll indicates a “profound change in the political culture,” particularly among younger Albertans, toward sticky social issues.
“There’s an emphasis on … if an individual does something and it harms no one else, governments should not be interfering,” Mensah said.
While politicians such as Redford and Harper said recently they’ve never smoked pot, others — including federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman and NDP Leader Brian Mason — have acknowledged trying it in the past.
But the political fallout from such revelations appears muted.
Fully 71 per cent of Albertans questioned said a politician’s past use of marijuana would make no difference in their voting decisions.
Twenty per cent said it would make them less likely to vote for a politician, while six per cent said it would make them more likely to cast a ballot for them. Four per cent voiced no opinion.
“It’s just not the bogeyman that it was even 10 or 15 years ago,” said Large.
He noted that although most people don’t care about politicians using the drug, it could still have an impact in a close election race.
Another hot-button political topic — the future of the Senate — has also drawn public attention following spending controversies involving senators such as Pamela Wallin, Mac Harb and Mike Duffy.
In Alberta, home of the Triple-E Senate movement, 55 per cent of people surveyed now support abolishing the upper chamber. About one in four oppose the idea, while 21 per cent do not have an opinion.
However, the idea of electing senators-in-waiting in Alberta draws solid support.
The survey found 62 per cent of Albertans back the idea of electing Senate candidates. About a quarter said they don’t support it.
Alberta is the only province that elects its candidates for Senate, although the final appointment is done by the federal government.