However much I deeply appreciate the good reasons for the decriminalization of marijuana (chiefly, that too many people were saddled with criminal records for possessing relatively small amounts of the stuff and suffered the limits that attach to a record for the rest of their lives), I am not among those celebrating its recent legalization.
The Cannabis Act received Royal Assent in Parliament Thursday but won’t actually be the law of the land until Oct. 17.
Much of the surrounding discussion, official and otherwise, has been insufferable, as if Canada were merely taking a well-reasoned, wholly benign and totally accepted step that every sensible nation in the world already has taken.
In fact, of course, Canada is but the second country on the planet — after Uruguay, hardly a traditional ally — to fully legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.
It was to gag to read Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s tweet this week when the Senate passed Bill C-45.
“It’s been too easy for our kids to get marijuana,” he said, “and for criminals to reap the profits.” With respect, odds are it will continue to be just as easy, and all that will change is that a new breed of “criminal,” white-collar, better-clad and equally cut-throat, will reap the profits.
As a child of the ’60s, I smoked my share of weed, which is to say, for one long summer, when I was crushing on a gorgeous lifeguard who sold and used it. I should be grateful, I suppose, he wasn’t pushing anything harder.
Even then, it wasn’t my drug of choice (that would be alcohol). I always found pot curiously anti-social, despite the joint-sharing thing. At least back in those days, too many of the people I knew who smoked a lot were prone to going all silent and introspective. I also noticed that in the regular daily smokers, ambition generally seemed to be exhaled as fast as the smoke was inhaled.
Anyway, I don’t think I smoked it again until about a decade ago, when at a party a friend passed me a big fat doobie and I politely accepted, only to discover this was nothing like the weed of my misspent youth: This was powerful stuff.
And in fact, it is.
Modern weed contains THC levels — THC is weed’s active ingredient, which provides the high — of between 20 and 30 per cent, compared with two to eight per cent in the old days.
High-THC weed can have negative effects, such as inducing anxiety and paranoia, especially in vulnerable teenage brains. The one thing that researchers have found that mitigates the effects is cannabidiol, or CBD, which some doctors — this according to a CBC Marketplace story about two years ago — suspect is being deliberately suppressed because it doesn’t contribute to the high.
At least in Toronto, the city where I live, weed has been effectively decriminalized for years: When I lived right downtown, people smoked it on the street; now that I live in mid-town, they also smoke it on the street.
I appreciate that this isn’t necessarily so for the rest of the country, or probably even in parts of the city where communities may be over-policed. People could still be charged with simple possession and undoubtedly were. I’d even agree with an amnesty, to wipe clean the record of anyone dinged for simple possession.
But for the most part, in Canada’s big cities, cops have better things to do and citizens appear to have felt free for a long time to smoke weed in places where drinking a mickey — or God forbid, having a cigarette — might at least bring a frown or two of disapproval.
Not weed, it already is normalized in many places and the new legislation will only enhance that. The tell-tale stink of the stuff is everywhere, at bus shelters, in the halls of the building where I live, in city parks and ravines and bike paths, near schools.
The argument over whether it is a true gateway drug rages on, but what weed is indisputably a starter drug: It’s usually the first thing young people try and while many, like me, try no others, some percentage of those kids go onto harder, more dangerous drugs. I’d bet very few of them start off, out of the gate, by smoking meth or crack.
I am not comforted by the role of government in all this — the feds made the legislative changes to allow the sale or distribution of weed, but the practical details are up to the provinces and territories, and they are all over the map in how they propose to handle it.
Buying weed for medicinal purposes has been allowed in Canada for some time, but that was all a bit of a sham.
So-called dispensaries sprang up everywhere, most with just a veneer of medical authority, and it seemed as though where prescriptions were actually necessary, they were easy enough to come by.
Weed, especially the sort with CBD, apparently has some real medical benefits, but it’s hardly the cure for everything that ails you.
But now, of course, it will be. Because where modern government goes, hypocrisy follows sure as day follows night. It’s enough to drive you to drink.
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