I attended my first Liberal Convention in 2011. I had always been a member of the Green Party and had even been asked to run on the Federal ticket, but that all changed with Resolution 117.
Resolution 117 was the ‘legalize and regulate’ policy that a group of young Liberals had drafted and made a priority policy at the Convention. It was about to get real and we felt very strongly that in order for the policy to pass we needed to be there and lobby on behalf of it. We were not mistaken. The policy was a contentious one that, even then, Justin Trudeau did not support. I do not believe Bob Rae, then leader of the Liberals, supported it either.
During the course of two extremely hectic days we handed out literature and spoke with the media about why prohibition should end. There were some extremely heated moments with both those in favour and those opposed to the resolution. The Liberal Party had 34 seats in the House of Commons and this risky policy could be a do or die in some minds.
I remember the morning I left Kingston for Ottawa quite vividly as I was excited about real political movement on this issue but also excited that we were experiencing probably the worst snowstorm I have ever driven through to this day. It was absolutely terrifying on the highways, to the point that we were literally the only car on the 401 heading east. We had passed the plough trucks thinking they would hold us up only to find snow drifts over a foot high — really scary stuff and I can tell you now that the thought of death did cross my mind.
Thankfully we made it and almost fell to our knees in hysterics after checking into Room 420 (by chance), which we took as a good sign of things to come, though there were not many others there speaking directly to the cannabis issue, and we would have to stay on our toes. Then we met Dan.
Dan is an imposing persona, with a handlebar moustache and a crew cut. He is a cop. We heard whispers about him and made it a point to introduce ourselves as allies. It was awkward at first. Why would a cop be the most vocal supporter of this policy? I clearly recall a discussion between myself, Boris St. Maurice, a well-known activist and dispensary owner, and Dan, in which we were discussing the policy, at which point Boris suggested we would be fine with decriminalization and Dan became quite agitated, to the point he asked Boris what he did for a living… it was sublime and unbelievably surreal.
On this same day we were able to speak with Irwin Cotler who was then the Justice Minister. He expressed many doubts about the policy and told us his son had advised him to vote against it. I handed him our literature and asked him to please take a look and thanked him for all of his considerations on the matter as we had met with him in the past and he was always very receptive to what we had to say. I can tell you now that Irwin has since told me he read what we gave him, called his son and shared our talking points. And not only did Irwin vote in favour of the policy, he had his sons’ full support.
The evening before the vote on Resolution 117 the Young Liberals had their shindig. It was held at posh venue very close to the convention center and we made our way over with only one intention — to remind everyone to make it to the vote which was slated for early in the morning. I personally felt like someone’s nanny, but everyone we spoke to was in good spirits and took our nagging with a good sense of humour as they assured us that they would definitely be there.
“Maybe it was the feeling of change, renewal, rebirth, good energy… I am not quite sure, but that room was huge and packed and on fire.”
The next morning was electric. I have no other word to describe the feeling that was in the room. It wasn’t just about the legalization policy. It was just the whole energy of the Liberal Party. Maybe it was the feeling of change, renewal, rebirth, good energy… I am not quite sure, but that room was huge and packed and on fire. There were microphones set up on either side of the stage from which people could address the podium regarding whichever Resolution was being voted on, and there were many.
As we neared to 117 people began to line up behind the microphones to speak. Those in favour of the Resolution were on the left of the stage and those opposed on the right. There was a longer line on the left but it wasn’t by much and so the fight was on. I noticed that Dan the Cop had made it into the line but looked to be so far behind that it was unlikely he would actually get to speak. There were time constraints which we had been made aware of. I was sitting with some of the authors and members of the Young Liberals who had drafted the policy. After a short huddle I approached the line and politely asked three young gentlemen ahead of Dan if one would mind letting him ahead. We felt quite strongly that Dan’s message would resonate with the delegates. We just knew that Dan was a critical voice that had to be heard. Looking around the room on that Sunday morning it was obvious that the Young Liberal party was a good one and our delegation was comprised mostly of the 40 + crowd. They were going to need some convincing, nothing could be left to chance.
I don’t think I will ever forget my quick conversations with those three young men, but it was the first young man who really got me. He was calm, adamant and emotional. He said “NO WAY,” he also went on to tell me how cannabis had saved his life and that he was not giving up his spot. He was a recovering addict and cannabis had helped him to get off opiates. I completely understood and thanked him. The second young man told me he would not give up his spot as did the third. I thanked them all and returned to the centre of the room to relate the outcome and then watch as the speakers began.
When I spoke earlier of the electricity in the room, I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I said when the speakers began it went to the next level. This was going to be big. It went back and forth between the pros and the cons and it was a combination of anti-prohibition logic and prohibition rhetoric, to start. And then two things happened.
Firstly, the young man who was in recovery made probably the most eloquent and impassioned plea for sanity when it came to plant medicine. I would not doubt he brought on some tears. He was brilliant. Next, behind him was the second young man who was so passionate and alive his words and his enthusiasm were a welcome comedic relief to what was just sinking in to some people and that was that cannabis and the legalization of cannabis was not about getting high or being a pothead. It was about lives and people.
I must have turned away at this point because I clearly recall that the next voice at the mic was the voice I was least expecting and that was the voice of the Cop: the calm, deliberate, persuasive voice of the law, calmly and convincingly telling the room what was wrong with the current system and why it needed to change. It was a watershed moment. The third young man had given up his turn to speak.
The vote passed by over 70%. The room went pretty wild and that is not an exaggeration. It quite literally felt the way I believe it might feel when we actually do end prohibition. The first young man approached me as people were cheering around us and we hugged and we cried for a moment. I will never forget this and I truly hope I can meet him again someday to thank him again for his words and his commitment to his own purpose.
We had the privilege of congratulating Bob Rae later on in the day to which he said, it was really something wasn’t it?
Yes, Bob, it really was something.
Authors Note: Dan remains a true and trusted friend and anti-prohibitionist.
Republished with permission from Canlio.