Canada's marijuana laws will not decide the outcome of the next federal election in 2015, but Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's sudden embrace of outright legalization shows he sees which way the wind of Canadian public opinion is blowing.
Mr. Trudeau has moved over the years from supporting the status quo, to decriminalization, to legalization of pot so it can be regulated, controlled and taxed.
Prime Minister Stephen Mr. Harper is not only stuck in the past, he has increased the penalties for certain marijuana-related offences. His government has accused Mr. Trudeau of being irresponsible. Judging by polls showing a majority of Canadians support either decriminalization or legalization, however, it would seem Canadians overall disagree.
Mr. Harper runs the risk of being seen as an old fogey, while Mr. Trudeau's reputation as progressive and forward-looking could be enhanced.
As well, the Americans warned Canada 10 years ago that any liberalization of pot laws could cause a backlash and tougher border security. It's not clear if our neighbours still feel the same way, but the issue might also set up Mr. Trudeau as a leader who isn't afraid to stand up for Canada.
Mr. Trudeau is not recommending marijuana use, but he believes it would be easier to keep out of the hands of children if the product was exclusively in the hands of the state, much like cigarettes and alcohol now.
It's a compelling argument, and one Mr. Harper ignores at his peril.