Comparing marijuana to fentanyl is social conservatism without a clue: Robyn Urback

In many ways, it’s much more fun to serve as Official Opposition than in cabinet. You can feign outrage over omnibus bills, since you are no longer in the position of writing them.

You can scold ministers for resorting to pre-programmed talking points in question period, having finally been freed from the obligation of reciting your own. And you can attack the government’s lack of transparency, having emerged from the protective fortress that insulated you from all sorts of opposition attacks for the better part of a decade.

Sure, you might spend your evenings crying into a bottle of scotch, wondering when exactly you became everything you once despised, but when the sun comes up that shame disappears — replaced with a roughly two-year-old sense of righteousness.

It’s not all fun, though. At some point, you need to move beyond being a party defined simply by being in opposition. This is particularly important when you’re in that post-electoral-defeat soul-searching period, when you’re trying to figure out how this “new” party distinguishes itself from the old.

Kent on pot

The majestically dumb comments Conservative MP Peter Kent made about marijuana earlier this week, however, suggest that the Tories’ re-branding efforts are not going particularly smoothly. 

During debate over Bill C-45, the Liberals’ pot legislation, Kent suggested that growing marijuana at a home where children could ostensibly get at it is “virtually the same as putting fentanyl on a shelf within reach of kids.”

“Having plants in the home, it’s just as wacky, it’s just as unacceptable, it’s just as dangerous for Canadian society,” he added.

That is wrong, obviously: fentanyl is 10 times more potent than morphine, and opioid-related deaths have exploded in Canada. Marijuana, on the other hand, makes you feel funny.

It is true that some people do weird things under the influence, but most just end up eating too much and creating depressions in their couch cushions.

Kent clarified that he understands the chemical distinction between marijuana and fentanyl in a subsequent interview with Vice News, saying, “I’m quite aware that cannabis is not the equivalent in terms of its deadly opioid content.”

Then he added: “THC, if kids consumed one way or the other, deliberately or accidentally or as a joke, and became intoxicated, they’re just as at risk at home or on the street as they would be — the outcome could be just as deadly.”

If I’m following correctly, Kent is saying that it is just as deadly to be dead from a marijuana-related accident than it is to be dead by a fentanyl overdose. Which I suppose is true.

Kent, I am certain, must know how ridiculous this sounds. After all, the last Conservative MP to make such outlandish rhetorical flourishes about marijuana — Julian Fantino, who compared weed to murder — went on to head a medical marijuana company.

The best-case scenario here is that Kent is clumsily trying to appeal to the roughly one-third of Canadians who have reservations about legalized marijuana (and the worst-case scenario is that he truly thinks this all sounds reasonable).

Tory position on marijuana

The Conservatives have long taken very weird, hyperbolic positions when it comes to marijuana.

In 2015, when the Supreme Court ruled that medical marijuana users could consume pot in ways other than smoking it — thus allowing for oils, teas, consumables, etc. — Health Minister Rona Ambrose said she was “outraged” by the ruling.

Previous federal regulations only allowed for medical marijuana to be sold dried, meaning that lung cancer sufferers and children with epilepsy, for example, basically had to smoke weed if they wanted medical marijuana relief. The Supreme Court, sensibly, recognized that six-year-olds who depended on cannabis to control their seizures should not be smoking joints. The health minister, apparently, did not (or at least, she did not publicly).


In 2015, the Supreme Court struck down the regulation that medical marijuana be sold dried. (CBC)

The Tories, it would seem, have progressed roughly not at all since then.

Which, on the one hand, is fine: if the Conservatives want to double down on social conservatism — at least as it relates to marijuana — all the power to them.  

The problem is that, with his comments, Kent has presented them as socially conservative without a clue.

Ah, well. Where’s that scotch?

This column is part of CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor’s blog and our FAQ.

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