Are Canada's pot-fearing politicians raising children or goats?

Tabatha Southey schools Tory MP Peter Kent on children's lack of interest in sharecropping, and eating kale-like substances

Goats feeding at Teal's Meats in Waterford, Ontario on January 23, 2017. (Photograph by Nick Iwanyshyn)

Is this how some politicians picture Canadian children? (Photograph by Nick Iwanyshyn)

Last week, Quebec’s minister for rehabilitation, youth protection, and public health, Lucie Charlebois, speaking on the talk show Tout le monde en parle, said: “I do not grow cannabis, but my neighbour grows it. If my grandchildren go to my neighbour’s house and inadvertently get into the marijuana plants and eat them, that’s not good.”

Then, this past Tuesday, in the midst of a debate over the Liberal government’s Bill C-45, which will make pot legal, Tory MP Peter Kent told the House of Commons: “Kids today will learn from one another. When it’s legal, despite the … allowable age to consume, kids are going to harvest leaves.”

These days one can understand how someone who knows nothing about marijuana and even less about children might be concerned. As a former nanny and a mother of two and… well… I’d like to offer some reassurance.

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First of all, the kids are going to “harvest” now? That seems like a lot of work. I wonder if Kent also believes that no one just gets their older brother to buy them a bottle of wine anymore because teenagers today are just all about the viticulture. Maybe you get more than six youngsters together on a Friday night in Kent’s mind and you end up being schooled on the risk phylloxera poses to a vine’s root system before the young revellers conclude, “Let’s not go to Jason’s house, his soil is too loamy.”

In my day, you took an inch off the top of all the bottles in your parents’ liquor cabinet, poured it into the Spumante Bambino bottle you emptied the weekend before and you drank that elixir we called “shit mix” and you were guilty-grateful, and yet no one called for prohibition.

I have enough faith in Canadian parents to trust that if a metre-tall plant they were planning on using to get high goes missing, they’ll notice. They will catch on long before that crop is dried and ready for smoking, and I’m willing to bet that if Timmy Teenager makes off with the family herb garden, his parents will be able to handle the situation. Basically, you take your dad’s weed and smoke it, young Timothy, you can look forward to dad showing you what happens to your Xbox when he rolls that up in paper and lights it on fire.

Teenagers will, of course, get their hands on weed. They pretty much always have. That’s part of the point of legalization. Canada tried the whole criminalized marijuana thing for a long time. What we got out of that was (according to a 2013 UNICEF report) the highest rate of cannabis use among young people in the developed world. There’s only so much skating most of us can do. What the government aims to do with Bill C-45 is take some of the resources we’ve historically expended (rather selectively) arresting and jailing people and put them toward educating young people about the good reasons not to smoke pot.

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As for Charlebois’s concern that, given the first opportunity, her grandchildren are going to start ravaging her neighbours’ raw pot plants, all I can say is, are you certain those are grandchildren and not goats?

Children don’t generally graze and, if it helps you relax, Canadian parents, fresh marijuana leaves are a terrible way to get high, not toxic and look exactly like the kind of thing you spend hours trying convince your child to eat, to no avail.

It’s almost like there’d be some kind of prize in it for a mother who could get her kid to eat anything that resembled marijuana leaves. Weed is so damn green and wholesome-looking that other mothers would be jealous and resentful if your kid brought it for snack, you show-off.

Marijuana is like kale, but spiky, and there’d be no fancy dressing or toasted nuts on it if they tried to eat it, because very few children left alone in the house say, “Hey! Let’s make a salad!” And anyway, they’d have to pick it before they could do that, and it’s growing in dirt, and absolutely no child ever cried out, “Whoa, my parents aren’t home, let’s play sharecropper!”

Pot looks unappetizing. At best, it’s a garnish. Mostly a marijuana leaf looks like one of those deadly viruses you always see blown up in Time magazine.

(Luis Hidalgo/AP/CP)

Harvesting marijuana. (Luis Hidalgo/AP/CP)

Parents, please don’t worry, you already understand that your child is too smart to fall for kale. They’re not looking for another leafy vegetable. You and I both know your child will just sit across from you with that salad bowl between you and stare at you skeptically while you proclaim kale’s virtues, then he’ll smirk at you when you pretend to like it yourself. Your child will enjoy watching as you go full mime on that kale with “I’m trapped in a glass box, but luckily this kale is so delicious!” Followed by the classic “walking against the kale” routine. His eyes will say, “What’s next, Mum, the Quinoa Dance? You’re pathetic.”

You know what is really dangerous to children, what is responsible for 75 per cent of all poisonings involving American children under five (there’s no Canadian data, but Health Canada issued a warning) and is in millions of Canadian homes? You know what kids really want to eat? They want to eat dishwasher and laundry pods, and could the manufacturers have done a better job of making those things whimsical and enticing?

What exactly necessitated this toxic charm? Adults would use dishwasher tabs if they looked like plastic-warped chihuahua feces. No one wants to do dishes. Appeal to adults can’t be the issue. Did they focus-group those things with three-year-olds before adding another pouch of cheerful Gatorade-coloured liquid? Is someone working on Dishwasher Tab: the Movie? Yet I don’t see government stepping in to grab your tabs. They trust you. The same way they trust you to have alcohol, prescription drugs and actual rat poison in your house—and I’m not afraid to say it, folks, Warfarin looks like a giant green Kit Kat.

RELATED: Legal weed: An accidental solution to the opioid crisis?

Perhaps aware that a few marijuana plants don’t sound like a threat to children—because they’re not—Kent, trying to score points against the Liberals, sidestepped that problem by invoking the spectre of an actual deadly drug crisis affecting the nation. You almost have to respect him for coming up with a comparison so perfectly calibrated to anger all sides of the debate.

“It’s the same, virtually the same as putting fentanyl on a shelf within reach of kids. Having plants in the home, it’s just as wacky, it’s just as unacceptable, it’s just as dangerous for Canadian society.”

Fentanyl, and the opioid crisis as a whole, is currently killing a lot of Canadians. According to the B.C. Coroners Service, between January and April 2017, fentanyl was involved in 368 fatal overdose deaths in British Columbia alone. All across the country, there are many people who have lost friends and family. Exploiting this public-health crisis to argue against legalizing cannabis was impolitic to say the least.

To Kent’s credit, he seems to realize this. Less to his credit, when approached by Manisha Krishnan of Vice for clarification of his remarks, Kent tried to salvage the situation with: “A child under the influence who suffered a fatal accident would be just as dead as if they were negligently given access to fentanyl.”

Thanks for clearing up what dead means and then explaining risk, sir. Coming soon from Kent, “Kids who choke on chicken bones and die are as dead as kids who are shot in the head and die. Ergo, chickens are as deadly as guns.” This will be followed by, “A child who dies trying to eat a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince would be just as dead as a child hurled into the sun. Ergo the works of J.K. Rowling are exactly as deadly as direct contact with the sphere of hot plasma at the centre of our solar system.”

RELATED: Could legal weed revive small towns hit by resource losses?

“I’m quite aware that cannabis is not the equivalent in terms of its deadly opioid content,” Kent said, adding, “THC, if kids consumed it one way or the other, deliberately or accidentally or as a joke, and became intoxicated, they’re just as at risk at home or on the street as they would be—the outcome could be just as deadly.”

The concern he was trying to express, apparently, is: “They could wander into a red-light crosswalk, they could injure themselves with tools or equipment at home, they could have any number of accidents under the influence.”

In Kent’s world, smoking pot makes you want to get out of the house more and finally finish work on those shelves you’ve promising to put up since New Year’s three years ago. It’s like, “Dude, have you ever really looked at a table saw?”

It’s a tragic story, I imagine, and one that in the interest of balance, I’ll pretend we’ve heard many times before. Let’s say it goes like this: child finds his parents’ marijuana plants, child experiments, child develops a whole new strain of cannabis that makes you hyper-motivated and interested in fine woodworking, child leverages this discovery to build an international cannabis empire, buys a private island, handcrafts a villa on it, finally child falls off a dock and drowns so don’t let your kids near your newly legal grow-ops, folks.

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