Why the conservatives lost the marijuana fight

  • National Newswatch

Big, bold letters on the sign outside the door announced “Conservatives on Cannabis” and “Recharging the Right.” The jokes write themselves, though there was little joking going on.The conservatives lost the battle over legalization of marijuana and conceded as much in their setup of a discussion on next steps at the Manning Conference on Friday. There are many theories on why the conservatives find themselves in this position. One of the panelists for this session exemplifies mine.Dr. Dean Vause is the Executive Director of the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre and has won a number of awards for his work helping addicted youth. Clearly he is passionate about his work and his success turning young lives around from addiction. For this he is to be commended.However, his passion gets the better of his arguments. He implied, more than once, that marijuana was responsible for murders and deaths of which he has direct knowledge. Listen carefully, though, and you'll hear that marijuana was part of the subject's “poly drug use,” a cocktail that Vause parenthetically said included Fentanyl, a “powerful synthetic opiate analgesic similar to but more potent than morphine” according the the United States National Institute on Drug Abuse.Vause invoked a series of frightening stories of young people “flatlining in ambulances” and throwing themselves off of buildings during what he suggested were marijuana-induced states of psychosis. One commenter reminded the panel correlation is not causation.While Vause claimed his remarks are all based on research, he failed to cite any reports or sources. He declared, “Look at the research, Amsterdam is one of the most violent cities in Europe." A smartphone Google search during the talk revealed Amsterdam doesn't even appear to be in the top 20 of Europe's most-dangerous cities. Following the session I asked Vause to share a citation on this claim. An email is still pending.Vause also claimed Denver is the number one spring break destination for university students. “Why is that,” he asked. “You can go to the airport, they pick you up, they drive you to the dispensary, you get high on the way, you go to the hotel that's pro-marijuana. There you go.” According to the Internet, an obvious authority on this particular issue, Denver isn't in the top ten.Peter McCaffery, the Manning Centre's Director of Research, was one of a number of people who challenged the panel. McCaffery asked why conservatives are realists on economic policy and idealists on social policy. Dr. Daniel Lindsay, a more rational voice on the panel, fielded that question saying that this is a key concern that gets to the heart of conservative credibility on the issue.Participants in the Q&A portion of the session, ranging from apparent small-c conservatives to self-declared libertarians, were clearly uncomfortable with Vause's remarks.A small group gathered around Vause following the session, myself included, to learn more and to debate some of his research. When asked why he couldn't see that recreational drinking and recreational marijuana use are the same, Vause balked and said “You can drink alcohol responsibly. You do drugs to get high.”If you ask me, the conservatives lost the marijuana fight not because there aren't legitimate concerns, but because they looked to people like Vause who sacrifice credibility to bombast, contortion and over-simplification.Author, speaker, and digital public affairs strategist Mark Blevis attended the 2016 Manning Centre Conference and offers this brief analyses for National Newswatch readers.