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Down Memory Lane: The long road to legalizing marijuana

Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau donned oilskins and a sou’wester during his visit to Fortune in August of 1971. From left, the Hon. Donald C. Jamieson, Mrs. Marjorie Matthews (wife of Mayor Tobias Matthews), Mr. Trudeau and Harvey Maugher, manager of the Booth Fisheries Ltd. fish plant at Fortune.
Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau donned oilskins and a sou’wester during his visit to Fortune in August of 1971. From left, the Hon. Donald C. Jamieson, Mrs. Marjorie Matthews (wife of Mayor Tobias Matthews), Mr. Trudeau and Harvey Maugher, manager of the Booth Fisheries Ltd. fish plant at Fortune. - Allan Stoodley Photography

It was way back in August 1971, some 47 years ago, when Canada’s Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, father of our current PM, posed the question to a group of young people from the Burin Peninsula and south coast, “Should his government legalize the use of marijuana?”

The original “Trudeaumania” was then all the rage across this great land. The “young” Trudeau, age 49 years old at the time, was referred to as a swinger and known as a non-conformist; he had bundles of energy and the young people of the day readily identified with him. 

Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau appears to be in a pensive mood as he waits to speak to a crowd at Grand Bank in August of 1971.
Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau appears to be in a pensive mood as he waits to speak to a crowd at Grand Bank in August of 1971.

In March of 1971 Pierre Trudeau married the much younger Margaret Sinclair of Vancouver and early in August of that year the newly-weds paid a visit to the nearby French Island of St. Pierre and then on to southeastern Newfoundland.

The then PM, following the brief St. Pierre visit and luncheon, then took a boat ride to Fortune and Grand Bank before he boarded a helicopter for a flight to Swift Current where he joined the Hon. Don Jamieson’s “Think-In” with a group of young people. Mrs. Trudeau had also boarded a helicopter for Swift Current after leaving the French Island.

Trudeau’s stop-over at Fortune on Aug. 3, 1971, coincided with the celebration of Fortune Day. The town was bedecked with flags flying and Mayor Tobias Matthews headed the official party that met Trudeau at the dock and walked with him to the Fortune Collegiate High School.

Hundreds of people were waiting to applaud and shake hands with the very relaxed Trudeau, who was wearing a blue and white horizontally striped jersey, blue denim jeans and white sneakers.

Matthews and three of his councillors helped him get into a suit of oilskins and a sou’wester and then presented him with a key to the town. Then after a brief 45 minute stay it was on to the Centennial Park at Grand Bank where he was again greeted by hundreds of well-wishers, shaking hands and talking with young people.

At Swift Current Trudeau and the invited young people sat around in a big tent on the grounds of Transport Minister Don Jamieson’s summer home where they “tucked into the long talk session after demolishing a tubful of lobster and platters of cod tongues”.

Quoting from a newspaper of the day, “The Prime Minister and his wife talked for two hours with the two dozen young Newfoundlanders about everything from political promises and drugs to New Democrats and Premier (J.R.) Smallwood.

He asked the young people whether the government should legalize the use of marijuana.

“Some of the young people said the government should but others had their doubts.

Mr. (Don) Jamieson said he felt there would be inconsistency if the government legalized the smoking of marijuana while it was taking action to reduce the smoking of ordinary cigarettes.

“Mrs. (Margaret)Trudeau made a distinction between smoking marijuana – which she said is a social habit similar to drinking alcohol – and the use of more severe drugs tends not to be.”

When we look back nearly 50 years we see that under the Prime Ministership of Pierre Elliott Trudeau the seeds of legalizing the use of recreational marijuana were sown. Today his son, Justin, has finally made it happen.

Allan Stoodley is a long time resident of Grand Bank. He welcomes comments on this or any other article he has written. He can be reached at amstoodley@hotmail.com.

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