MP Garnett Genuis (Cons.) on Pot Legalization: “This Was a Big Mistake”


Yuri Bilinsky, New Pathway – Ukrainian News.

Long before October 17, the plans to legalize marijuana have polarized the Canadian society. The government’s official position is that marijuana was legalized to keep it out of the hands of children and keep the profits out of the hands of criminals. The Conservative opposition is questioning many government’s promises, in particular, that it will punish more severely those who provide marijuana to minors and those who operate a motor vehicle while under its influence.

Several main issues related to the health and safety effects of marijuana remain open. The government has softened the official stance of marijuana. As Janice Dickson (Canadian Press via the Huffington Post) put it, while, previously, public health campaigns called on the public not to consume cannabis at all, current messages point out that there are circumstances where cannabis should be avoided. Many conservative critics believe that marijuana is more dangerous.

To find more about the issues related to marijuana and its legalization, which may pose risks for the society, we spoke to a Conservative MP Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park – Fort Saskatchewan).

Garrett Genuis. (Photograph by Maclean’s/Chris Roussakis)

NP-UN: What do you think about the legalization of marijuana and the way it was done?

Garnett Genuis: We are very concerned about the course that the government has taken on the issue of legalization, we don’t think they’ve put in place a good plan at all for the way in which they pursued legalization. Their plan will make it easier for children to access marijuana because people are now allowed to grow marijuana in their own home. The controls that they trumpeted are not at all effective and very likely we will see increases in marijuana use, in health problems and the associated cost for health care system. From a perspective of a parent, from a perspective of a taxpayer and someone who wants safety and security in our society, this was a big mistake.

NP-UN: It seems that one of the themes in the media and in the official government position about the legalization is that marijuana is not as dangerous as thought previously and is less harmful than, for example, tobacco. Do you think that this is a right message and do you think that marijuana is less harmful than tobacco?

Garnett Genuis: I think you’re right on point – there has not been enough public education up until now about the risks associated with marijuana and even when marijuana was illegal, we had unfortunately the rates of use that were higher than we would have liked to see. But at the same time in the last 10 years when Conservatives were in government, promotion of awareness of the public health impact of the marijuana use combined with a continuing role of the law enforcement lead to significant decline in marijuana use. Although a very large number of people say they used marijuana at some point in their life, the number of people who were using it over the last 10 years went down quite significantly. What we see from this government is first of all the legalization and all the problems with the way they’ve done that, but also many of the false statements about marijuana. The Prime Minister himself has talked about using marijuana even while he was a Member of Parliament. I think this sends a very negative message to young people. The emerging medical science in recent years actually points to greater risks of cannabis than we’ve even thought in the past, to correlation with higher rates of various mental health challenges, including schizophrenia. But we don’t see that level of seriousness from the government today.

NP-UN: What do you think were the real motivations for the government in the cannabis legalization?

Garnett Genuis: I think it was a cynical political calculation to try and make themselves look sort of “hip” and “cool”. It wasn’t the decision that was made in consultation with health or safety experts.

NP-UN: Marijuana is now available to anyone starting from 19 years old. Do you think this age is too low?

Garnett Genuis: Yes, I definitely think this age is too low. But also the fact that the people are allowed to grow marijuana in their own home dramatically increases the risk that it will get into the hands of people who are under that age.

NP-UN: Historically marijuana has been thought to be addictive and a gateway drug. Do you think this is still the case, especially considering the prevailing message in the media that marijuana is neither addictive nor the gateway drug?

Garnett Genuis: Marijuana is not physically addictive in the same way that tobacco is. But I met somebody who had a serious issue of addiction to marijuana and it was the result of the psychological process of addiction that happens.

NP-UN: What is the difference between physical addiction and psychological addiction if psychological addiction still leads the person to want more?

Garnett Genuis: In practice they are the same. There’s some saying that addictive drugs affect your brain in a biochemical way to create a dependency and there are other cases where the experience associated with the drug use may create certain pathways in your brain that lead to a sense of dependency as well. It’s a slightly different mechanism but I think you’re right to say that in practical sense they’re very similar. In terms of it being a gateway drug – I think there’s very good scientific evidence to suggest that it is a gateway drug. That is also the perception of law enforcement. In one study for example they looked at twins where one had used marijuana and the other hadn’t. In those cases, the one that used marijuana was much more likely to go on to use harder drugs. Absolutely, the risks are there. Marijuana’s health effects are more pronounced now than they were historically because generally the marijuana that people are accessing has much higher levels of THC in it – that’s its psychoactive component.

NP-UN: If marijuana was still outlawed, someone who sold it could get jailed. But now, it’s the government who is selling marijuana to the people. What consequences could there be for the government for doing that?

Garnett Genuis: I think some of the people that are pro-legalization do so from a sincere conviction that that’s what the best for the country. I just happen to disagree, I don’t think it’s the best for the country. So, in terms of consequences my hope is that those that make decisions that I disagree with in Parliament are replaced by those who are more likely to see the world in the way that I do. I think that’s probably as far as it goes.

Garnett Genuis was named Maclean’s Parliamentarian of the Year in 2017, based on a vote by members of the House of Commons, and was called “one of the smartest MPs in the House” by his Liberal colleague Raj Grewal (