We all know that politicians bend the truth to score points, but when it comes to weed it seems many have no idea what the hell they’re talking about.
The latest in a long series of examples comes from Conservative MP Peter Kent, who recently compared growing weed at home to giving kids access to the deadly opioid fentanyl.
“Kids today will learn from one another. When it’s legal, despite the …allowable age to consume, kids are going to harvest leaves, kids are going to experiment,” said Kent speaking in the House of Commons Tuesday. “I think what we’re doing, it’s the same, 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."
VICE reached out to MP Kent to ask how he came to such a conclusion. The ensuing conversation became somewhat heated.
“I’m quite aware that cannabis is not the equivalent in terms of its deadly opioid content,” Kent told VICE. “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.”
When asked to point to any evidence that suggests a child could overdose and die from weed the same way they could from fentanyl, Kent said, “They are at risk, their judgment would be lost, they could wander into a red light crosswalk, they could injure themselves with tools or equipment at home, they could have any number of accidents under the influence.”
He then admitted his claim was an exaggeration.
“I said that with exaggerated rhetorical intent to say that a child under the influence who suffered a fatal accident would be just as dead as if they were negligently given access to fentanyl or any other opioid.”
Across the country, thousands of Canadians are now dying from drug overdoses each year.
In BC alone, there were 914 illicit drug overdose deaths that involved fentanyl from January to September 2017. That’s a 147 percent increase over the same time period in 2016. In all of 2016, there were 935 drug overdose deaths in BC, many attributed to fentanyl, and 2,458 opioid-related overdose deaths nationally. (The federal government has not released national fentanyl death numbers and many provinces haven’t made that data public.)
Weed’s death count is still sitting at zero.
Fentanyl is highly addictive and has a high toxicity, meaning it can easily cause overdoses. Weed has a minimal risk of overdose and dependency—no one has died from a weed overdose. Cannabis is actually helping wean opioid users off their addictions.
Kent said his point is “not to make a chemical equivalency discussion here” but to draw attention to “the number of children who are going to be at risk” when recreational weed becomes legal next year. At no point in the conversation was he able to point to any scientific evidence or statistics to back up his claims.
Kent, before entering office in 2008, was a long-time journalist, working for CTV, CBC, and Global television. During the interview, the Conservative politician told me, “I put my journalistic reputation against yours any day of the week.”
Now it’s easy to dismiss Kent as an out of touch opposition MP with no drug literacy trying to land a quote on the local 6 o’clock news. But in the context of a country with a long legacy of prohibition, his words do matter. For decades, the Canadian government has punished racialized and marginalized people over a plant that is significantly less harmful than cigarettes or alcohol.
Many Canadians are still trepidatious about legalization, fearful that “the children” are going to turn into stoner zombies. But, as is the case with alcohol and prescription drugs, we should leave it up to parents to be responsible with their cannabis.
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.