Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau denounced a series of planned taxpayer-funded anti-marijuana advertisements from Health Canada on Friday, calling them a “thinly-veiled partisan attack” against his party by the federal Conservatives.

In an interview with CTV Winnipeg on Friday, Trudeau accused the Tories of using taxpayer money to discredit his pro-marijuana platform ahead of the 2015 federal election.

According to a Postmedia report, the ads are estimated to cost $5 million.

“It’s become increasingly clear the government is very ready to use taxpayer dollars for partisan gains,” Trudeau said in Winnipeg, Man. on Friday morning. He said if the Conservatives want to truly address public health issues facing Canadian youth, they should focus Health Canada ads on cigarettes and alcohol, instead of marijuana.

“If we were actually looking at challenges to young people’s health, we’d be looking at the impacts of alcohol and binge drinking on young people, instead of the lesser impacts of marijuana as a public health problem,” he said. A World Health Organization report says Canada has the highest rate of teen marijuana use among 29 developed countries. “If the government was truly interested in educating people about the facts around marijuana, they might not be distorting my position as aggressively as they are,” Trudeau said.

The Liberal Leader said his party’s plan to legalize and regulate marijuana is aimed at making it harder for teens to get access to the drug. He also said government regulation would help keep the proceeds of marijuana sales from funding organized crime. “Kids find it easier to get a joint right now than they do to buy a bottle of beer or even a cigarette, and that’s why we’re failing at protecting our kids,” he said. “We need to make sure that our young people do not have access to marijuana the way they do right now, because it is a harmful substance.”

MacKay not budging

Trudeau’s comments came on the same day federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay reaffirmed the Conservative government’s anti-marijuana stance. MacKay said on Friday that Trudeau’s desire to legalize marijuana for recreational use is “the wrong direction for Canada’s youth.”

Speaking at a police K-9 unit demonstration in Aurora, Ont., MacKay said the Conservatives have no intention of legalizing or de-criminalizing marijuana in the future. “We do not intend to make marijuana more readily available or accessible to Canadians, and in particular, to children,” MacKay told reporters. “The harms that would flow from that position are very obvious.”

MacKay also criticized Trudeau for his resolute pro-marijuana stance. “Mr. Trudeau has been quite adamant that he would legalize marijuana. We think this is wrong-headed, and the wrong direction for the country, and certainly the wrong direction for Canada’s youth,” MacKay said.

Friday’s comments from MacKay and Trudeau are the latest in an ongoing war of words between the Liberals and the Conservatives over the future of marijuana in Canada. Last month, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino distributed anti-Trudeau flyers in his Vaughan, Ont. riding, claiming Trudeau wants to educate children on the benefits of pot.

Budding debate over marijuana

Trudeau fired back at the Fantino pot-shot earlier this week. “I’ve been very clear that we need to control and regulate marijuana use to protect our young people from marijuana use,” Trudeau told reporters in Saskatoon, Sask. on Thursday, in response to a question about the flyers. He said he aims to curb marijuana use among Canadian teens, which he said can be "problematic" for their developing brains. “We need a reasonable conversation about how best to protect our young people,” Trudeau said. “Our current approach is failing young people, and failing to protect them.”

The flyer accuses Trudeau of seeking to normalize drug use among children. “Legalization is an irresponsible policy that only puts dangerous drugs on the streets and in our communities, and sends the wrong message to children that recreation drug use is okay,” Fantino is quoted as saying on the flyer.

Marijuana possession is illegal in Canada and most parts of the United States. Colorado and Washington are the only North American jurisdictions to legalize its use for recreational purposes, prompting some Canadians to push for similar laws in Canada.

“We’ve made our position very clear,” MacKay said on Friday. “We believe that there are implicit harms and risks associated with marijuana use.”

MacKay also said he’s “very concerned” about the number of marijuana-related cases of impaired driving in Canada. “We know that that is an issue that’s on the rise,” he said.

The Justice Minister dismissed medical marijuana use as falling into a different category.