OPINION: Andrew Scheer’s indecision on cannabis shows a party without a plan

Oct 23 2018, 1:34 pm

Andrew Scheer’s recent flurry of comments and clarifications on legalization show a party without a plan on how to deal with cannabis.

Earlier in the month, during an interview on CTV’s Power Play, federal conservative leader Andrew Scheer did not answer a clear yes or no committing to keep cannabis legal if his party forms the government in 2019. 

Then, less than a week later, after much speculation about the nature of these comments, he revised his statements for clarity.

“We acknowledge the reality now, so I do not intend to make it illegal again,” Scheer said on 104.7 Outaouais, a Gatineau-based radio station. “But we will see what happens in the next year and will make the necessary changes.”

The Conservatives, for all their opposition to legalization, have not taken the time to clarify their own position. To choose not to even begin cementing a national policy now that their party conference in Halifax has passed, cannabis is being sold recreationally, and we’re less than a year from the federal election is disaster level under-preparedness.

There is no unified position or stance that the Tories advocate for. The only alternative offered is the status quo. 

“We’re already hearing some of the concerns from health experts, from law enforcement,” Scheer said on Power Play. “The Conservative Party will do our due diligence, examine the consequences of this decision, and we’ll examine the reality on the ground.”

The reality on the ground is that cannabis has already become another sector of business. And while the Con’s agenda includes a sense of righteousness and morality, the CPC is primarily the party of jobs, economy, and small government. Putting hundreds, potentially thousands, of people out of work, sacrificing the advantage of being the most advanced economy to establish a globally scalable recreational cannabis market, and the revival of an entire layer of regulation just isn’t very conservative.

Pot has scaled up so quickly that Canada has become the litmus test for legal weed around the world. Despite this attention, the Liberal party has generally made a mess of cannabis reform, tripping over themselves to be both givers of, and protectors from, cannabis. The slow, painful implementation of rec sales in unprepared (and sometimes unwilling) municipalities is a blunder second only to their continued heel-dragging on criminal amnesty for small possession charges. The approval of a questionable roadside testing system should be an easy target for an official opposition party worried about government overreach. Instead, Scheer’s party has chosen to be critical of allowing provinces to select their own systems from a federal framework – a somewhat (lowercase) conservative policy decision.

Scheer’s other quip on Power Play was that his party plans on taking an evidence-based approach to legalization. A statement that comes after nearly 10-years of a Conservative-led government under Steven Harper that only focused on criminalization and arrests, rather than education and treatment. The idea that their party will now suddenly start to apply an unbiased lens to the issue is unlikely considering the personalities and rhetoric that came out during the last year.

Conservative ministers read poems about cannabis plants, argued about the likelihood of children eating leaves, and compared pot to the same opioids killing Canadians in record numbers across the country. The party line has been to be combative without offering alternatives beyond extended criminality.

Conservative Party’s health critic Marilyn Gladu read a poem earlier this year to “keep our great country safe from all the weed.”

The cringey, tone-deaf moment included lines like “With mould, ventilation as issues unplanned, this bill will not keep pot from our children’s hands.” The minister’s poem was not unique for the floor of the House of Commons – poems have a long-standing place in parliamentary tradition – the issue was that the criticism failed to consider any evidence in its reading. 

Former Conservative Environment Minister Peter Kent made a point of comparing cannabis to fentanyl. During a debate, he claimed a family growing weed plants on their property would be “virtually the same as putting fentanyl on a shelf within reach of kids.”

The opposition’s role is to be critical, but for a party that prides itself both on its unity and being policy forward, they have no unified voice on how they will move ahead with the cannabis file if it becomes theirs to inherit.

A lack of leadership is what left cannabis classified as a controlled substance for the better part of a century, and has left an entire generation of people criminalized. If conservatives plan to lead – and there is a very decent chance they could form the government after next year’s election – they will need to do so with a clear picture of what they actually plan to do about this issue.

If not, I hear Maxime Bernie started a party

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Peter SmithPeter Smith

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