'(It's) the way to go': Brian Mulroney explains his about-face on cannabis

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney — whose government once introduced legislation continuing to classify marijuana in the same category as heroin — has not only become a born-again weed evangelical, but now says Canada is poised to influence the rest of the world to join the cannabis bandwagon.

Once, he favoured treating marijuana like heroin. Now, he stands to profit from the recreational market

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney, shown here giving testimony to a U.S. Senate committee on NAFTA earlier this year, has joined the board of directors of Acreage Holdings, an American cannabis company. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney, whose government once introduced legislation to keep marijuana in the same legal category as heroin, hasn't merely become a born-again weed evangelical — he now says Canada is poised to influence the rest of the world to join the cannabis bandwagon.

"I'm saying the government's position that was taken yesterday is the way to go," Mulroney told CBC News Thursday. 

"It takes a while for certain people and certain things to catch up with reality and great social advances — as I've indicated — come in waves. And this is one of the waves that I think will have Canada showing the way for the rest of the world."

It was announced yesterday that Mulroney is joining the board of Acreage Holdings, a New York-based marijuana company that also counts former U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner and former Massachusetts governor William Weld among its directors.

It's a long way from his stance in the early 1990s, when Mulroney's government introduced Bill C-85 — which would have entrenched marijuana in the same legal category as LSD and heroin.

Mulroney is not the first high-profile political figure to switch sides in the cannabis debate and take advantage of the commercial opportunities legalization offers.

Julian Fantino, Toronto's former chief of police and a Conservative cabinet minister under former prime minister Stephen Harper, has become chairman of the board for Aleafia, a medicinal marijuana company.

That's a significant course correction for a longtime opponent of marijuana legalization who told the Toronto Sun in 2004 that legalization would not cut down on crime.

"I guess we can legalize murder too and then we won't have a murder case," Fantino said at the time. "We can't go that way."

Fantino is following in the footsteps of another former cabinet minister — Liberal Herb Dhaliwal, who served in former prime minister Jean Chrétien's cabinet. Dhaliwal founded cannabis producer National Green Biomed Ltd., based in the Fraser Valley.


If it's a trend — political foes of legal recreational cannabis getting involved in the market once they're out of politics — it's one that doesn't sit well with many, including current Liberal MP (and longtime legalization proponent) Nathaniel Erskine-Smith.

"I mean, there are lots of different words to describe that, and certainly, they're adults and can make their own decisions, but one word that comes to mind is 'hypocrisy'," Erskine-Smith said Thursday.

Mulroney said he took policy positions while in office that did not single out cannabis, but rather were focused on curbing the use and spread of "lethal drugs" that were "floating around Canada big time, way back in the mid-'80s."

The former prime minister said there has been a "sea change in attitudes in the reality of the use of cannabis" since his time in office — and his thinking has evolved as well.

Will the U.S. follow?

"You know, if you had told me ... when I was in office 30 years ago that same-sex marriage would be on everybody's radar screen today, I would have said, 'That's a bit of a stretch.' But it is and that's the way social advance occurs," Mulroney said. "In the fullness of time, all of these important matters become accepted."

Mulroney said he supports the federal government's plan to offer pardons quickly, and free of charge, to people convicted of simple possession of cannabis; some of those people would have been convicted during his time as prime minister.

Going forward, Mulroney said he expects to see Canada's example followed by our allies, and perhaps even by our neighbour to the south.

"Well, I don't know if anything is imminent in the United States because the politics there are more complicated than in a parliamentary democracy like ours," he said.

"But obviously, the good ideas over the last 200 years that have come from the U.S. usually find their way into Canada and other countries, and the same thing is true of Canada."

Other politicians chasing the green

Here are some of the more high-profile former politicos in the marijuana trade now — and one whose move into the market didn't quite work out.

Julian Fantino: After a long career in policing, Fantino became a Conservative MP and a cabinet minister under Stephen Harper. He is chairman of the board for Aleafia Inc., a medicinal cannabis company.

Martin Cauchon: A former Liberal MP and cabinet minister under Jean Chrétien, Cauchon was justice minister in 2003 when the government introduced a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis. He is chairman of the board for 48North, a medicinal marijuana company.

Terry Lake: The ex-mayor of Kamloops and former B.C. Liberal health minister is vice-president of corporate and social responsibility for HEXO Corp, a cannabis producer. The co-founder of the company is Adam Miron, who was once on the national board of directors for the Liberal Party of Canada.

Mike Harcourt: The former B.C. NDP premier has been chairman of the board for True Leaf Medicine International Ltd., which oversees two divisions — one for medicinal marijuana, the other for hemp-based products for pets.

Ernie Eves: The former Tory premier of Ontario is chairman of the board for Timeless Herbal Care, a Jamaican medicinal marijuana company, and Asterion BioMed Inc., a health company that also provides medicinal cannabis services.

Chuck Rifici: A one-time Liberal Party of Canada chief financial officer — he served as treasurer for five years until June 2016 — Rifici heads the private equity firm Nesta Holdings Co., which invests in cannabis companies.

John Turner: In 2014, Mulroney's Liberal foe backed a bid by a company called Muileboom Organics to turn into a medicinal cannabis grower. Locals weren't interested, the project didn't go ahead and Turner backed out.

With files from the Canadian Press


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?