Conservative MP says he would vote to recriminalize cannabis if given a chance

| David Brown

In a recent interview on a podcast, Conservative MP Arnold Viersen told host and Liberal MP Nate Erskine-Smith that he would vote for a bill that made cannabis illegal again if given a chance. 

The comments came in a relatively friendly exchange between the two MPs posted on May 31 on Erskine-Smith’s podcast called Uncommons. Erskine-Smith has hosted the show since 2020, speaking with an array of policymakers, politicians, and other subject experts on various Canadian political issues. 

The interview with Viersen was centred around Bill C-270, known as the Stopping Internet Sexual Exploitation Act (SISE), a private member’s bill introduced by Viersen in 2022, but it also delved into the broader issue of social conservatism in Canada. 

In that vein, Erksine-Smith pressed Viersen on what he framed as a contradiction between a conservative ideology that wants the government to leave people alone with more socially conservative ideas centred around policing people’s personal behaviour, such as abortion or gay marriage or cannabis.

Sharing that he uses cannabis to manage symptoms from Chron’s Disease, Erskine-Smith asked, “If there was a vote to recriminalize cannabis, are you going to make me a criminal again?,” to which Viersen replies: “Your predictions are correct. Yeah.” This remark was met by an exasperated, but laughing, “no” from Erskine-Smith.

Viersen also told Erskine-Smith that he does not see a contradiction in social conservatives like himself claiming to want the government to leave people alone while also criminalizing and policing some peoples’ behaviour.

Erskine-Smith also suggested cannabis could help with Vierson’s poetry, which he has shared in the House. “…if you want the rhyme to flow better, definitely cannabis will help.”

Such sentiments from the Conservatives around cannabis are not uncommon. Marylyn Gladu, Conservative MP for Sarnia—Lambton (ON), who has a storied anti-cannabis history in the House as one of those who led the charge to oppose legalization in the first place, has long said the party would push back on legalization. 

In 2019, she told the Globe and Mail last year that the party wouldn’t roll back cannabis legalization but would like to make major changes to it, including raising the age of access, banning home grows (including medical), supporting larger companies over smaller ones, while also wanting to pare back packaging restrictions for foods and drinks. 

Recently, another Conservative MP in Ontario has called on the federal Health Minister to look at issues with medical cannabis home grows. Conservatives have also continued to call for an end to a medical cannabis “loophole”.

On April 20 of this year, Erskine-Smith spoke with Gladu on a broad range of topics, which included cannabis legalization. She rebutted Erskine-Smith’s assertion that the sky did not fall after Canada legalized cannabis, claiming there is under-enforcement of the regulations, infiltration of organized crime, and a 32% increase in drug-impaired driving.

She also criticized legalization for allowing provinces to manage distribution and sales, complaining about the number of cannabis stores in Ontario. Of course, provinces have jurisdiction around distribution and sales and any attempt to take that power away would have been unconstitutional, and the number of cannabis stores in Ontario is directly due to the management of the file by Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government. 

Gladu and the rest of the Conservative party all voted against legalizing cannabis, save for one Conservative MP, Scott Reid (ON), who says the party punished him for breaking ranks on the bill. 

Erskine-Smith, Scott Reid, and NDP MP Don Davies are co-chairs of the federal cannabis caucus. 

Featured image of Arnold Viersen via YouTube.