Dropping the criminal prohibition on pot could push Canadians, especially those under 35, to cast a ballot this time around.
The pothead vote is real, and it's spectacular, according to an exclusive poll provided to VICE News.
Forum Research contacted Canadians across the country to ask if they would be more like to cast a ballot for a pro-legalization candidate. For more than half of Canadians polled, the answer is: yes.
The results are surprising not because Canadians are pro-legalization—previous opinion surveys have pegged support for legalizing or decriminalizing at roughly two-thirds—but the poll shows that people actually see it as an election issue.
And it may be the thing to lead young voters to the poll when this election comes around.
In the 2011 election, it was estimated that just four in ten under 35-year-olds went to the polls to cast a ballot. That's probably unsurprising, given the election was mostly fought about purchasing F-35s, infrastructure spending, tax cuts for families, and pension plans.
This time around, bong-hitting youngsters may yet amble to their local school gymnasium and cast a ballot, and probably not one for Stephen Harper.
With 56 percent of those asked saying they're more likely to vote for a pro-pot leader, Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair must be popping champagne (or perhaps lighting a doobie). Both leaders are advocates of tearing down the prohibitions for possessing and selling marijuana.
Trudeau came out forcefully in favour of outright legalization, making him the first leader to do so.
"We want to keep it out of the hands of kids while respecting the rights of adults to make choices," the Liberal leader told VICE News in a sit-down interview earlier this year.
He said he'd like to emulate Colorado's system, where a 28-percent tax rate brought in $53 million in revenue for the state government. He also said he wouldn't jack taxes on the pot too high, lest the underground economy undercut the legal prices.
The NDP leader was a little less categorical in his position.
"There's something that we can do overnight in Canada, which is to decriminalize," Mulcair told VICE in March. When pushed, however, he wouldn't commit to legalizing the sale of weed, except to say that he'd work with the provinces on a solution.
"We'd have to look at different models," he said.
Elizabeth May is, obviously, pro-legalization.
Between the three federal opposition parties, their supporters say their anti-prohibition stance positively affects their vote.
The Conservatives are the odd ones out on this. Longstanding arch-enemies of the marijuana, the party has run an aggressive attack ad campaign to make Trudeau look like a reefer-mad college student.
Those haven't worked to any measurable degree, likely because only a fraction of Canadians appear to agree with the idea that marijuana is at all dangerous.
But Harper's rhetoric on marijuana isn't just political. His government has fought tooth-and-nail against the notion that they should make marijuana available for those living with cancer and glaucoma, and they've ratcheted up arrests and prosecutions for simple possession.
Possession charges for cannabis have grown by a staggering 40 percent since Harper took office. Each year, roughly one in every 600 Canadians will be charged with marijuana possession.
While there is a dearth of statistics about the makeup of provincial prisons, which house most convicted of drug crimes, currently four percent of federal inmates—meaning they're serving a sentence of two years or longer—are serving time for drug possession.
The animosity towards potheads is evident in the Conservative voting base. Just a third of Conservative voters say they want a pro-legalization leader.
Forum's data shows that when leaders talk about marijuana, it has the power to affect the outcome of the election.
"While not the most compelling issue we track, marijuana legalization has the power to move votes, and it is instructive to see that's the case among even one fifth of Conservative voters, whose party does not support it," said Forum Research president Lorne Bozinoff.
The poll questioned 1,281 Canadians from June 15 to 16 and is considered accurate +/- 3%, 19 times out of 20.
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