The former Toronto police chief who once infamously likened decriminalizing cannabis to legalizing murder has apparently changed his mind.
On Tuesday, Julian Fantino officially launched a new Toronto-area medical marijuana organization called Aleafia.
Fantino, who will serve as executive chair of the company, told reporters he was convinced of marijuana’s benefits after speaking with veterans who used it for PTSD and pain.
He said he now supports legalizing marijuana, so long as children don’t have access to it, criminals don’t benefit from it, and impaired driving laws are readily enforced. He also said he would use medical marijuana if a doctor prescribed it to him.
Before this startling change of opinion, Fantino also worked as chief of the London and York Region police forces as well as commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police before serving a term as an MP for Vaughan-Woodbridge.
His anti-cannabis politics have stirred up plenty of controversy over the years.
In a flyer distributed to Vaughan households in 2014, Fantino called legalization an “irresponsible policy that only puts dangerous drugs on the streets and in our communities, and sends the wrong message to children that recreational drug use is okay.”
In 2015, in response to a commitment from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on cannabis reform, Fantino wrote on Facebook: “Justin’s singular justice policy will make smoking marijuana a normal, everyday activity for Canadians and he wants to make marijuana available in storefront dispensaries and corner stores just like alcohol and cigarettes. This is simply wrong.”
Perhaps the best summation of Fantino’s former (?) views on cannabis, however, can be found on his Twitter account in October of 2015, when he simply tweeted: “I am completely opposed to the legalization of marijuana.”
Now, Fantino says he’s fresh from a “fact-finding mission” about medical marijuana after serving as Minister of Veterans Affairs in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.
“The medical profession is becoming better educated and better informed and there are more and more people who are being helped greatly with medical cannabis,” he said.
Fantino was joined by former RCMP deputy commissioner Raf Souccar at Tuesday’s news conference. Souccar, the president and CEO of Aleafia, admitted he was also sceptical of cannabis legalization even while serving on Trudeau’s Marijuana Legalization Task Force in 2016.
“My thoughts were medical users of cannabis were individuals who wanted to use cannabis and hide it under the guise of medical purposes,” Souccar said, adding that he changed his mind when he met with actual medical marijuana users during his time on the taskforce.
“I didn’t expect the types of people I met, people with jobs, people no different than any of us in this room. It brought about a huge change in me.”
The two former cops said their business will not distribute cannabis, but will connect patients with medically authorized marijuana and other health services across the GTA.
“First and foremost, we are not in the marijuana business,” Fantino said, “We are in the health delivery system and that’s our focus.”
Fantino’s curious change of heart has understandably garnered mixed responses. For proof, look no further than this less-than-flattering opinion piece by Toronto Star politics columnist Royson James.