The legalization of both marijuana and prostitution were prime topics today at a federal election forum held at Parrsboro Regional High School.
About 150 students attended the forum hosted by the Student Council to listen to and question all five federal candidates in the riding of Cumberland-Colchester. Under the rules, however, students were required to direct their questions to only one of the candidates, so some candidates did not weigh in on legalizing pot and prostitution.
When a student asked the Green Party candidate how his party proposed to pay for free tuition for post-secondary education, Jason Blanch mentioned one way of raising more money would be to implement the Green’s plan to legalize marijuana and then tax it. Later, he was asked why he favoured legalizing marijuana.
“I have several friends that smoke marijuana,” Blanch said, “and they are not in any way criminals, they’re good people. It’s just like people you know that drink alcohol.”
Blanch, who is a professional addictions counsellor in Springhill, added that both marijuana and alcohol are addictive, but there’s no control over who can buy marijuana on the black market.
“If we legalize it, we can regulate it,” he said, “and we can keep it out of the hands of children.”
Blanch said his work sometimes makes him wonder whether all drugs shouldn’t be legalized so that addiction could be treated as an illness rather than a crime. But he hastened to add that full drug legalization is not part of the Green Party platform and he’s not necessarily in favour of it himself.
Conservative candidate Scott Armstrong expressed a sharply different view when he was asked about legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.
“I’m just not convinced that legalizing marijuana is the way to go,” Armstrong said. “There are studies that point out for young people if they do marijuana on a regular basis, it can actually do permanent brain damage.”
Armstrong added that the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving is firmly opposed. He also mentioned the Canadian Medical Association whose members have expressed concern about potential harmful effects from smoking cannabis.
Although the NDP candidate Wendy Robinson was not questioned directly on Canada’s marijuana laws, she did say in her opening statement that her party favours decriminalizing the personal use of cannabis.
Women, sex and legalizing prostitution
The NDP candidate did field questions, however, about her support for women when a female student asked her about making women feel more comfortable in society.
“I was just wondering what you would like to do,” the student asked, “to help women feel more comfortable even in school areas where we are not allowed to show our shoulders or our backs because we’re overtly sexualized.”
Robinson replied that even though the federal government doesn’t have jurisdiction over local schools, it can promote the idea that women should be respected everywhere.
“We need to really understand that women are people and shouldn’t be sexualized and you should be able to wear what you want,” Robinson said.
She was also asked where the NDP stands on decriminalizing or legalizing prostitution and what an NDP government would do to protect sex workers and their clients’ health.
“What a fascinating question,” Robinson said adding she wasn’t sure if the NDP has a policy on sex-trade work including the controversial issue of whether it’s better to decriminalize or to legalize it.
Robinson, who has a master’s degree in women’s studies, added, “I do believe that if it was legalized, we would certainly do everything we could to protect the women, make better working environments for them and obviously to take them from the marginalized parts of the society and bring them back into the fold of the everyday people.”
When he was asked about legalizing prostitution, Conservative candidate Scott Armstrong recalled the worst day of his career as principal of an elementary school when he had to tell two boys that their mother, a sex-trade worker, had been murdered.
“The reason that happened was because she was co-opted by someone a little older than her when she was in her mid-teens,” Armstrong said. “They called it ‘the highway of tears.’ They could take them up to Montreal…These guys, a little bit older, make the girls think they love them and they take them away from their families, they kidnap them in my opinion. So, I don’t think we should legalize prostitution whatsoever because of the dangers inherent in that profession.”
Armstrong argued that instead, sex-trade workers need to be given counselling and support to help them get out of the profession.
This is the first of two stories on the Parrsboro all-candidates meeting. It is based on the question and answer period that followed opening statements. Liberal candidate, Bill Casey did not take part because he had to leave early to meet former Prime Minister Jean Chretien. The other candidate in Cumberland-Colchester is Independent Kenneth Jackson. In my second story tomorrow, I’ll report what all of the candidates had to say in their 10-minute opening statements.