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Conservative Leadership Frontrunner Says Legalizing Weed Was a Mistake

Peter MacKay, who served as justice minister under Stephen Harper, said he's worried about the impact weed will have on "young people" and driving.
February 25, 2020, 5:10pm
The frontrunner to lead the Conservative Party Peter MacKay, has weighed in on weed legalization, and, surprise, he’s not a fan.
Peter MacKay has some pretty ill-informed views on weed. Photo by Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press

The frontrunner to lead the Conservative Party, Peter MacKay, has weighed in on weed legalization, and, surprise, he’s not a fan.

In an interview with the Kelowna Daily Courier, MacKay, who served as justice minister under Stephen Harper, said that cannabis legalization was “forced” and that weed should have been decriminalized instead.

“That's where our government was heading on the advice of the Canadian Police Association and chiefs of police. Bringing in a phased-way with decriminalization would have been far preferable,” MacKay said, describing legalization as a “back-of-a-napkin promise that the current prime minister had made.”

There is absolutely nothing to suggest Harper’s tough on crime, weed is “infinitely worse” than tobacco; government was going to decriminalize cannabis, though the Liberal government before Harper was on track to do that. But even if that was the case, decriminalization is a half-measure that does nothing to compete with the black market. Nor does it allow Canadians access to a relatively benign substance that probably never should have been banned in the first place.

MacKay claimed the government’s promise to stamp out the black market has been a “complete failure.” While, a recent Stats Can report found that more people are reporting buying weed from legal sources, MacKay is right the black market is still doing pretty well. If anything, that’s an argument for more cannabis stores, better quality, more product selection, and lower prices, not prohibition.

“What I most worry about is the impact on young people, the mental health implications, the impaired driving implications. It was forced. The entire issue was rushed,” MacKay continued. Again, he didn’t back up any of his claims. According to Stats Can, cannabis consumption amongst 15 to 17 year olds went down about 10 percent after legalization.

As for the rest of his statement—what mental health implications? What impaired driving implications? MacKay is spouting vague reefer madness talking points and oversimplifying issues that are complex.

The links between cannabis and mental illness are hazy at best. Those who may experience psychosis from consuming weed are more likely to have pre-existing vulnerabilities, such a family history with mental illness. As for stoned driving, first of all, cannabis existed before October 2018, and there’s nothing to suggest that more Canadians are driving high just because it’s legal now. The same Stats Can report showed the number of drivers who got behind the wheel within two hours of consuming weed stayed the same pre and post legalization.

MacKay said the government “jumped the shark” (what?) on legalizing weed and should have instead focused on “protecting people from other drugs, fentanyl and oxycontin.”

While overdose deaths in B.C. and Alberta are dropping due to measures like safe consumption sites and naloxone distribution, harm reduction experts are calling for a safe supply of drugs in order to further curb the problem. Something tells me that’s not what MacKay has in mind. But then again, based on his comments, I’m not sure we should be listening to his thoughts on drug policy at all.

Despite MacKay being seen as a more progressive Tory candidate, he has made a number of statements that could be seen as playing to the social conservatives in his party. He recently described people setting up railway blockades in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs as “a small gang of professional protesters and thugs.”

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