Former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair didn't have the rosiest reputation, but was in favor of decriminalization when he was a cop. Is he really the right man for the job?
Former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair is taking over marijuana legalization for the Liberal Party of Canada.
Blair, who was Toronto's top cop for a decade until his retirement last year, was recently appointed a parliamentary secretary to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. The Toronto Sun confirmed with Blair that he is taking over the pot file.
Eugene Oscapella, a criminal lawyer who teaches drug policy at the University of Ottawa, told VICE the move seems strange because of the traditional tension between weed activists and law enforcement, but that's actually why it might work.
"The strongest opposition to reform is probably going to come from some of the police groups, so better to have somebody with a police background to speak to some of these groups," he said.
Many police forces are still aggressively enforcing current laws while the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, of which Blair was a former president, has stated it favors a ticketing option over straight-up legalization.
During the federal election, Blair said he thought regulating weed could work the same way as liquor: "We regulate on where it can be used, when it can be used."
Oscapella said it's possible Blair was one of the many people in the criminal justice system who recognized prohibition was a failure but wasn't previously in a position to say so.
Cam Battley, vice president of communications corporate development for licensed producer Bedrocan Cannabis, was very enthusiastic about the idea of Blair heading up a pot strategy.
"He's an ideal choice. He knows this issue up and down."
He told VICE it will take someone experienced and "mature" to balance making weed more accessible for consumers with minimizing social harm and keeping the drug out of the hands of kids.
Jonathan Zaid, executive director of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana, said he doesn't think the appointment is necessarily good or bad, but that he hoped Blair would consult with the medical marijuana community when making policy decisions.
"There is still an issue of accessibility and affordability," he said. "Those concerns need to be addressed first and foremost in the context of legalization."
Blair has previously said he's never smoked pot but has purchased it as an undercover police officer.
Blair was a controversial candidate for the Liberals due to his role in undercutting civil rights, as seen in the 2010 G20 fiasco and the Toronto police carding policy that disproportionately affected visible minorities.
The Liberals did not respond to request for comment.
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