Rob “I smoked a lot of it” Ford
It used to be that politicians played to public sensibilities by describing their love of God. In a predominantly religious and conservative climate, it’s impossible to imagine a politician volunteering that they’ve ever smoked weed. It’s much easier picturing a politician denying smoking pot than admitting to it. It is illegal, after all, even if it’s so common now that it doesn’t feel that way. But in the last week, Justin Trudeau, Kathleen Wynne and now Rob Ford–rounding out the federal, provincial, and municipal levels of government–have admitted to puffing. Something has changed.
It’s not politicians. Like ever, they will cut throats to control their image. What’s newsworthy here is that politicians apparently feel that revealing that they have smoked pot improves their image. Indeed, the Liberals surged to 38% approval rating the day after Trudeau announced that he had smoked pot. This says more about Canadians than it does about our politicians.
The god-fearing Canadian abstaining from pot lest they burn in hell for eternity is impossible to find today. Canadians are increasingly secular and educated, and decreased religiosity and increased education seems to have created a population that puffs more, or at least regards pot as mostly harmless fun. It is hard to believe that serious adults ever created those ads about the dangers of marijuana (“Your friends may call you names, like ‘Smokey McBong-water’”).
These days, I’ve heard of people who vote in elections that smoke weed at parties, or before and during a Netflix binge. I know a guy who smokes weed in bed every day, hops in the shower, drops Visine, then goes to work at Goldman and Sachs. I have marginally employed friends who basically do the same. Objection to marijuana use doesn’t fall along economic lines. I imagine rich and poor only differ in what grade they smoke. Somewhere in every demographic, people smoke weed.
Of course many Canadians disapprove of weed, but there’s a difference between preferring not to smoke and morally objecting to Satan’s plant. Stephen Harper bet on Canadians’ outright moral objection, saying that Trudeau’s “actions speak for themselves.” Presumably he meant smoking the weed, not admitting to having smoked it, but how can he believe that Canadians will automatically adjudge Trudeau’s behaviour negatively when 44% of Canadians have smoked it too?
No sane politician makes anything approaching a radical pronouncement without closely examining the public’s appetite first. Unless they were careless and it backfires (which doesn’t seem to be happening), Trudeau, Wynne and Ford have tapped into Canadians’ being not-so-secretly very ok with pot for a long time. Put another way, despite it being illegal, Canadians find pot so acceptable that our politicians feel comfortable admitting to having smoked it.
To be sure, great leadership requires more than smoking weed. I am wary of astute politicians clamouring to woo Joe Public as I am wary of politicians who I don’t resemble in the slightest. Why should a politician feel it’s necessary to prove he’s just like me? In my modest estimation, I am not fit to run Canada. A leader doesn’t heighten their qualifications by resembling me. Or you, by the way.
The voices of condemnation in the face of these weed admissions have been refreshingly few, just partisan and predictable. Does anyone really, actually care about pot? It’s an old observation that if we removed the work of every artist who drank or took drugs, the museums and the concert halls would be empty. Charlie Parker played impossibly complex, beautiful music on heroin. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan under the influence of opium. And of course it’s not like our politicians are high while working (though unlike the others, Ford did not state when he last smoked). My guess is voters wouldn’t care if they were high on the job so long as they did a good job. In office, Winston Churchill drank late into the night and took cocaine. Mind you, it’s hard to begrudge him a line of blow when the Nazis are invading.
Whether you think these politicians are being sincere and transparent or pandering to juveniles, it’s not much of a story. But political columnists are obligated to write in the summer while our politicians play the part of teachers and vacation for a thousand months. In the absence of political substance, I’d be writing about the wonderful farmers market at city hall if only our mayor could refrain from involving himself with drugs and alcohol week to week. But I do find it interesting that our social and political climate is apparently such that not only does admitting to smoking weed fail to ruin a career, it increases popularity. Therefore, in the spirit of the times and to climb even higher in public opinion, I hereby give my unsolicited admission that I too have smoked pot.
Jeff Halperin is a Toronto-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter @JDhalperin.