A confusing radio interview about whether the Liberal government should move slowly or quickly on legalizing and regulating the sale of marijuana may be smoking out the interim leader of the federal Conservatives.
Rona Ambrose is under fire for an interview with Vancouver station CKNW in which she said she wants to see the Trudeau government "take it slow" on legalization, but also concluded the government should move quickly to regulate Canada's growing number of illegal pot dispensaries.
The former health minister said her concern has always been the public health impact of pot on developing young brains, and she pointed to a $7-million government anti-drug advertising campaign – launched while the Conservatives were still in power – as evidence.
"So again I say to the government, make sure that you take it slow, that you've got the right public health measures in place, the right restrictions to keep it away from kids," said Ambrose.
"It's a tough thing to do when you legalize something, because when you legalize it, you normalize it and it becomes more acceptable and more available."
Three national medical organizations declined to endorse the 2014 taxpayer-funded anti-drug campaign, stating publicly that they could not "support or endorse any political messaging or political advertising on this issue." The government ads happened to dovetail with a sustained Conservative party ad campaign that accused Justin Trudeau of wanting to make pot more easily available to kids, including by selling it in corner stores near schools.
While the Conservatives were attacking Liberals over their legalization promise, illegal pot storefronts were popping up in Vancouver under the guise of medical marijuana dispensaries.
"The bottom line is there's a huge faction of people in this country that want – that are mostly adults, to be frank – that want access to pot and they want it legalized and it's for recreational purposes," Ambrose said in the interview.
Ambrose told CKNW the profusion of grey-market pot shops was the result of municipal decisions and she's concerned those storefront operations are only growing in number across the country under the Liberals.
"We don't have any sense of what the regulations will look like, but whatever they look like, Prime Minister Trudeau has said that he is going to keep pot out of the hands of children, so good, that's what we need to do," said Ambrose.
"So I hope the faster they move on this the better, because the proliferation of pot dispensaries is quite large, so it has moved now not just in Vancouver but across the country and they're unregulated. So the sooner they can move on that, the better to protect kids."
Ambrose was not available to clarify her position Thursday but a spokesman said she was clearly urging swift action on regulating dispensaries, not legalizing pot. The Conservatives have not said how the government should regulate dispensaries selling an illegal product, but did propose decriminalizing pot possession during last fall's election campaign.
The interview had Liberals howling about hypocrisy.
"Health minister who spent millions of your $ on misleading ads against pot wants us to legalize faster," Gerald Butts, Trudeau's principal secretary, wrote on Twitter in a post that included the hashtag "#chutzpah."