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More leaders enter the political pot debate

Article originally published on August 29, 2013 by Advocate Daily.

Ontario’s premier and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford threw themselves in the political pot debate Wednesday, confessing they too smoked dope – and more than once.

Ford, who’s been fighting allegations that he smoked crack cocaine, raised eyebrows when he freely admitted to using a different drug.

“Oh yeah,” he said with a laugh. “I won’t deny that. I smoked a lot of it.”

Kathleen Wynne also came clean that she puffed some pot, but “very, very infrequently” and stopped 35 years ago, before her children were born and she was elected.

“It’s never been a big part of my life,” said the 60-year-old premier.

They’re the latest high-profile politicians to own up to using marijuana, after Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau admitted last week that he took a pull on a joint three years ago while he was an MP.

Trudeau said he hasn’t lit up since, but Justice Minister Peter MacKay condemned him for breaking the law while serving in public office.

He also accused Trudeau of hypocrisy for voting for mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana production before he stopped smoking up.

Wynne said she won’t pass judgment on Trudeau or anyone else.

“These are personal decisions that people make and I’m not going to weigh in on the decision of another politician or individual,” she said.

In an interview with, Toronto criminal lawyer Aaron Harnett says the politicians’ admissions represent, “a component of this time of transition that we are going through right now in Canada.”

The country is in the midst of a transitioning attitude between prohibition and legalization of marijuana, says Harnett, which has sparked a number of developments.

“I am particularly interested to see the role the mainstream press has been playing in this. Generally, press covereage of the issue of marijauana usage has been sympathetic towards liberalizing the laws. Recently, the questioning of public officials has taken on a more personal tone,” Harnett tells “I believe reporters are asking not because they want to embarrass officials or titillate the public, but rather to demonstrate that criminalization is hypocritical and doesn’t reflect reality.”

Harnett says moving forward, he expects more leaders will step forward to speak candidly about marijuana use.

“The progress towards decriminalization has seen different components at play,” he says. “There have been Royal Commisions to study the issue, there have been public protests, mass disobedience and public usage, constitutional challenges, medical exemptions, and now public admissions by public figures.”

Harnett says he suspects Canadians find the topic interesting is because, “a significant majority of Canadians are ready to usher in a new era of decriminalization and so it’s almost as if they’re happy to hear it so that we can speed this process along. When public officials are prepared to come forward and admit their use of marijuana, it makes them feel that finally, maybe we’ll see some real legislative change.”

Ford’s admission Wednesday that he smoked weed came as a surprise since he’s refused to answer questions from reporters about his alleged drug use.

In May, Ford denied that he used crack in the face of reports that he was videotaped smoking the drug, and said he couldn’t comment on a video “that I have never seen and may not exist.”

Three years ago, Ford admitted he was charged with driving under the influence and marijuana possession in Florida in the 1990s. He at first denied the allegations, but later pleaded no-contest to the impaired driving charge and the drug charge was dropped.

Wynne, who lived with her young children for three years in the Netherlands where the drug is legal, wouldn’t say whether she agrees with Trudeau that marijuana should be legalized and regulated.

Proponents argue one of the benefits would be generating much-needed cash to pay for public services.

“I think it’s one of those contentious subjects that we need to debate,” said Wynne.

“I think it’s good that it’s been raised. I think that it’s an important debate to have, but I’m not going to weigh in on one side or other of it at this point.”

Former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien tried to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, but it didn’t become law.

For the record, Chretien said he never smoked a joint.

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