Breakenridge: Alberta Opposition’s pot policies don’t pass the smell test

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While support for cannabis legalization has grown tremendously in recent years, it’s also true that there isn’t unanimous consensus that it’s the right thing to do.

However, it’s also the case that legalization is for all intents and purposes a done deal, and so arguments against it are rather moot at this point. Moreover, bizarre and irrational arguments against legalization are not only moot, but really only serve to embarrass and discredit those making them.

For Alberta’s new United Conservative Party, dabbling in such foolishness would represent a totally avoidable self-inflicted wound. Obviously, the Rachel Notley government did not legalize cannabis, but rather – as is the case with every other province – is designing and implementing regulations around legalization.

So to that end, the comments last week from UCP MLA Ron Orr are truly baffling. What’s worse, because his party has been so mum on the proposed regulations, Orr’s remarks have become, by extension, the de facto UCP position on cannabis. That’s not helpful.

Last week in the legislature, Orr rose to speak to what he believes are the “historical parallels” between Canada legalizing cannabis and the opium problems in early 20th-century China. Those problems, he maintains, “contributed to the Chinese cultural revolution under the communists.”

He took the comparison even further, describing how China eradicated “the opium trade, the opium business, the opium tax revenue and all of these wonderful things that are supposed to be generated from recreational use of drugs.”

The most charitable reaction to all of this was one of bewilderment. Others were a little more taken aback. What exactly did Orr believe his remarks were going to accomplish, or what specific NDP regulation was he arguing against?

Whatever point he was trying to make – if indeed, there was one – was lost in the ensuing backlash. Even his own party struggled to defend him. It was a whole cycle of unflattering coverage for the new party that was completely unnecessary.

If the UCP doesn’t object in any serious way to the government’s regulations, then why say anything at all? If Orr has some concerns about the impacts of opium use, then perhaps his bizarre rant might have been more logically inserted into the conversation about Alberta’s ongoing opioid emergency.

Yet, oddly, he made no mention of that.

Cannabis, of course, is not an opioid, and is really not in any way comparable. In fact, there are recent studies that indicate that the availability of medicinal marijuana might have a positive impact when it comes to reducing opioid use.

Nor is cannabis a gateway to harder drugs, if that’s what Orr was getting at. If any drug could be seen as a gateway, it would be alcohol, but that’s not a justification for an interventionist, nanny-state approach. 

Additionally, if it needs to be pointed out, a cannabis-driven communist revolution is not in the offing.

UCP Leader Jason Kenney has gone to great lengths to invoke the legacy of Ralph Klein, and painting himself as a leader cut from a similar cloth.
Perhaps the least contentious aspect of the Klein revolution – certainly with a quarter of a century in hindsight – was the end of the government monopoly on alcohol retail.

Even though the NDP has wisely avoided the government monopoly when it comes to cannabis retail, the government will still be in control of online sales, and it’s still unclear how heavily the NDP plans on taxing cannabis.

Instead of pushing discredited fear mongering in pursuit of a prohibitionist approach, wouldn’t it be nice to have a pro-free market party in Alberta actually standing up for the free market?

If there’s no political pressure from the opposition steering the government away from an interventionist approach, then we run the risk of inching down that path.

The legalization ship has sailed, and it was never a provincial decision to begin with. The UCP would do well to come to grips with these facts.

Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge airs weekdays on NewsTalk 770. rob.breakenridge@corusent.com

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