O Cannabis

In July of next year, Canada will legalize marijuana. Not just decriminalize it, not just for medical use, but fully legalize it for recreational use for adults. The government will make it a controlled substance like alcohol, and will regulate its growth and sale.

When I was a teenager, weed was readily available from neighbourhood sellers, who would chide kids gently but sell to them anyway. Imported strong stuff existed but was hard to get; most people smoked weak and cheap homegrown (i.e. locally grown). Everyone knew the sweet herbal smell of weed at concerts – and in school yards at night. Because this was the 1970s, a lot of parents had come of age during the 60s and weed was still a symbol of the counter-culture.

Today’s weed is apparently 4-5 times stronger than it was back then. Two of my four surrounding neighbours smoke weed outdoors out on their decks regularly, and I miss the sweet herbal smell from days of yore – now it smells like skunk! And it’s just as easy to get as ever.

When Bill C-45 passes, the federal government will achieve its goal of introducing new legislation that is tougher on anyone who sells or gives marijuana to youth, and it will bring marijuana sales out of the black market and into retail stores. This will presumably take away the livelihood of street dealers, put the money into the legal economy, and ensure adults are getting a measured and safer product.

Do I want my government to do this? To my surprise, I now support the legislation.

I realized I had to re-educate myself about marijuana. It’s not the same substance it was 35 years ago when I was in school! While research is not conclusive, more is known about how it helps and harms.

Previously I would have said its main harms were:

(1.) the profits support crime including the illegal weapons trade,

(2.) the illegal product can have quality issues such as toxic pesticides,

(3.) all smoking causes lung cancer,

(4.) it seems like a bad idea for teens to use it when they are still developing judgment, and it could interfere with the development of good habits and practices, and

(5.) too many people who smoke weed become washed-out stoners.

Of course, I have heard (6.) that marijuana use can hasten the onset of certain mental illnesses like schizophrenia, or exacerbate existing ones, like bipolar disorder.

For the record, I don’t believe cannabis leads to harder drug use – tobacco is the gateway drug.

I was ready to put my old information to the test, so I did a ton of research, and this is what I found.

  1. Crime

Some of the main reasons for legalization are to drive weed sales above ground, reduce criminal activity and profits from crime, reduce police and court time for marijuana cases, and stop ruining people’s lives with convictions and jail time for marijuana offenses. Naturally, all of us in Canada are cynical and feel that it’s a cash grab for the government who will receive a massive income from licensing and taxing the product. There are fears the price (at about $11 a gram including tax) will encourage black market sales, just as people now buy black market cigarettes to get a price break. Regardless, wide availability should mean a vast reduction in street-level dealers.

I can’t resist getting a little satirical here:

It will be interesting to see if users will continue to prefer certain “street” varieties they like from their dealers, as opposed to the official product. Former dealers could become licensed growers or sellers, or they could start selling something else (tobacco, nicotine vaping products or hard drugs) or they could try to sell either super-cheap or super-premium cannabis. What market model would you prefer they pursue? Haha!

  1. Quality and Safety

I do think some people otherwise disposed to smoking weed are concerned about pesticides, metals and other crap from unregulated smuggled crops. Medical marijuana is grown in Canada under controlled conditions and is subject to quality testing (although some has failed already!) The same regulation is planned for recreational weed.

  1. Lung Cancer

I read one study that said smoking a joint a day was equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, in terms of lung cancer development. But medical researchers rely on self-reporting for marijuana use. After all, since weed has been illegal all this time, they could hardly compare a control group to smokers who were given various doses! Currently, “weed boosters” say compounds in cannabis may protect against cancer, while researchers say the evidence is inconclusive.  Yet even weed boosting web sites like Leafly and Herb say that burning plant material creates tar (charred material) which, at least, irritates your lungs. These sites agree with the Canadian government that frequent weed smoking causes chronic coughs, mucus, and can lead to lung infections. Of course, these effects are moot if cannabis is ingested in ways other than smoking.

  1. Marijuana and Teens

It must be confusing for teens to know the government has licensed growers and sellers to produce medical marijuana since 2001, while it’s illegal for recreational use. It is prescribed for pain, nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite. It is not hard to get a prescription for adults to use it for MS, ADHD, anxiety, depression, PTSD or insomnia. A lot of people are convinced that high doses of cannabis oil cure cancer. So, teens must feel cannabis is a wonder drug rather than a threat.

It’s hard to argue the immediate positive effects of cannabis: like alcohol, it leads to an increase in relaxation, and a decrease in feelings of stress. Unlike alcohol, it doesn’t result in overdoses, hangovers and gastric distress.

I work with teens and almost all of them believe cannabis is less harmful than alcohol. Drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes are at all-time lows. Among adults I know, they tend to say alcohol and weed are equal in their potential for enjoyment or harm – so why is one legal and not the other?

  1. Addiction Rates

It begs the question of why alcohol remains legal given its bad side. According to StatsCan, 80% of Canadians drink alcohol. 14% of drinkers drink heavily enough to put themselves at risk or injury or short-term harm, and 20% heavily enough to put them at risk of longer-term health problems like heart disease or liver damage. The Canadian government website claims an average of 9% of marijuana users become dependent, rising to 17% for teens. Young men ages 15-24, especially cigarette smokers, tend to be the heaviest and most frequent users.

I have known two people who were addicted to weed and it was very sad to see their decline; however, both have recovered. One is a highly functioning adult and the other (who started as a teen) has some permanent impairments.

  1. Mental Illness

People of all ages with mental illness are much more likely to use and abuse cannabis than people without mental illness, probably because they self-medicate.

Pro-pot web sites claim that weed is a good treatment for depression and other disorders, focusing on daily mood improvement. Medical journal articles cite that it can lead to the earlier onset of mental illnesses that a person is predisposed to. Ultimately the medical profession seems to agree that caution is in order until they know more.

My Conclusions

Well, my recent research settled most of my questions and doubts. I would conclude that regular (even weekly) cannabis use is a very bad idea for young people even up to age 25, and that teens who self-medicate their problems or symptoms with weed are at a high risk of intensifying their problems and developing addictions.

The government is setting 18 as the legal age, and some provinces may set it at 19, the same as the drinking age. It is difficult to tell young adults they can vote, sign contracts, get married, or join the armed forces at 18 or 19, but they can’t buy weed until they are 25.

I think more adults should consider the effects of both alcohol and marijuana on their health, their relationships, their jobs and their quality of life. I think if you don’t partake in either now, you probably shouldn’t start.

For those who do, I am in favour of harm reduction. Drinking-and-driving rates have plummeted since the 1970s; now we need similar education and peer pressure against all forms of impaired driving. If I had a friend who was ready to start treating their own depression or insomnia with weed, I would encourage them to get a prescription, so they could be under medical supervision. Plus, their drug plan/insurance would probably cover it! But if I had a friend who declined conventional medical treatments because they were convinced cannabis oil alone would cure their cancer, I would be very alarmed and sad. Maybe medical research will advance in that direction someday, but I believe we are far, far from that point.

As a manager in my workplace, I am concerned I’ll have employees who are medical marijuana users or whose recreational habit interferes with work. But that’s nothing new. I assume I will manage the situation based on the person’s work performance, as I would if they were a problem drinker.

I wouldn’t like it if I moved into a new apartment or condo and the skunky smell of weed pervaded the public areas or seeped under the doors. At least in my current neighbourhood, everyone still goes out onto their decks.

As an adult non-user, I am going to have social dilemmas because of pot. As I said, half of my neighbours, and a number of people I know, enjoy weed as they do alcohol. That is: most in moderation, but a few problem smokers/addicts. When I go to parties or get-togethers of any kind, the norm is for the pot smokers to slip outside and to return to the room after. Now that there are no legal issues, it is going to be more acceptable to share a joint or a bowl inside with the rest of the gang. Or maybe we will all have to have discussions about who is sensitive to smoke and vapours and divide ourselves up accordingly.

I generally don’t like to socialize with people who are high, because it immediately divides us into those who have normal lives with stresses and concerns, and those who have obliterated them for the time being. I don’t see much point in having conversations with people who have no cares. It creates superficial relationships with exchanges of the “Oh wow man” type. Maybe my need to deeply connect with people one-to-one at social gatherings is a losing proposition? But every time I do, I always find kindred spirits who welcome the chance to share both the joys and disappointments of daily life. I know it’s human nature to seek intoxicants and ways out of the everyday grind, but I am committed to actually living it “stark raving sober” as they say in Al Anon.

What’s Next?

Bill C-45 will legalize marijuana for recreational use in July 2018. The bill has to be passed by the House of Commons, the Senate and a Cabinet Order. It will be a restricted product, like alcohol, with tight licensing and distribution. Each province will decide where it’s sold. Most provinces are leaning toward selling it in the same way as alcohol, in government-regulated stores (maybe not alongside alcohol, but in separate stores). Currently medical marijuana is sold online and in licensed dispensaries; it is likely these will not be licensed for recreational weed. There will be a personal limit of 30 grams – which would cost over $300! And people will be allowed to grow 4 plants in their own homes. No advertising of marijuana will be allowed. Pot cafés and pot edibles (like brownies) may become legal for public sale in the future, five years or more from 2018.

Both alcohol and tobacco sales in Canada are way, way down compared to past decades. Maybe when cannabis is normalized, the same thing will happen here, as it did in the Netherlands. I hope so.

In the past, my readers who comment have been very anti-drug. What do you think of all this? Are you ready for 420 every day? 🙂 

 

19 comments

  1. One of the unique situations here in the US is that it is legal in some states, and not legal in others. I can buy marijuana, both recreational (THC) and medical (CBD), here in Washington State. Stores accept only cash, because a credit or debit card requires a federally-controlled bank, and marijuana is still illegal on a federal level. Visitors can buy marijuana here, but can’t bring it out of Washington if the trip home crosses states where it’s illegal. It think Canada will have us beat in this respect.

    I’ve never been a big marijuana user. I smoked it to be social in college, but once I graduated, my usage dropped off to near zero. Now that I can legally buy it right here in my neighborhood, my pot usage is still minimal. I smoke it or eat it occasionally, but only when I know being high for the next few hours won’t be a problem.

    I am in favor of legalization. Yes, there are risks, but I also feel that with it legal and in the open, those risks can be better tracked and handled.

    • I like to hear about responsible use. I agree that risks can be better managed now, especially since people will be less ashamed to mention their use to their health care providers, and police will be able to check for and prosecute all kinds of impaired driving more easily.

  2. Karen

    As a nurse I see young people who develop cyclic vomiting from daily marijuana use. Of course they are convinced that the answer is to smoke more not less. They become quite debilitated by it. I live in a state where I it is legal and the car accident rate has gone up. I haven’t bothered to try it but if I had a medical need I might.

    • Hi Karen, I haven’t heard of that. Good to know. If I had a medical condition that included pain and loss of appetite, I would consider it, but I would hesitate to accept a prescription for anxiety or depression.

  3. I have been taught use of weed can trigger otherwise dormant psychosis, so that’s enough of a scary possibility for me NOT to try it. But I recall dating someone a little while ago who said he would probably try drugs at 40 or 50, when life is stable and established, and in his perspective, less likely to ruin his life, but also, why not try it?

    I don’t think I’m 100% never ever with marijuana. I think if a GP or similar suggested it might help my health concerns, I’d be open to try it. But as a recreational option, it’s not something I’d entertain.

    Conversely, I actually SUPPORT legalisation of these substances. I think it can help harm minimisation, with the collection of taxes supporting the health side affects, like Karen mentioned.

    • Yes, the psychosis thing should make people think twice! Interesting about trying drugs in mid-life. I would imagine that someone who doesn’t abuse alcohol might not abuse weed either, unless the only reason they controlled their drinking was to avoid hangovers! The other thing is that once someone has a stable and relatively happy life, they might be less likely to want any risks or highs-and-lows that come with drug use. Unless they are going through a mid-life crisis!

  4. California is going the same route as Canada with recreational marijuana although local governments are able to decide if they will license growers and dispensaries. I have to admit that I didn’t really enjoy smoking it back in the late 60’s-early 70’s so I am not going to try it this time around. If it would help a medical situation though I would try it without reservation.

  5. 1066jq

    I’m not a user, tried it when young, didn’t care for it. But I think the time has come to legalize it and control it. Sounds like Canada has a good plan.

  6. EcoCatLady

    Colorado was the first state in the US to legalize recreational pot, and I’m all for it. It’s not without issues – most of which are caused by the fact that we are surrounded by states that have not yet legalized it, so there are issues with people growing or buying here in order to sell illegally elsewhere, and issues with homelessness caused by an influx of people coming here for legal pot.

    But since Colorado is, in general, a revenue starved state (we have some crazy tax laws here) the extra tax revenue has been quite welcome, and there is some evidence that legalization has lessened the opioid crisis, which is so prevalent throughout the rest of the country. But honestly, getting an objective picture of the impact of legalization is really difficult, because nearly all the reports and studies come from one side or the other, and thus are heavily biased in terms of their outcomes.

    But speaking personally, I haven’t really noticed much of a difference. You do smell it more often than before – especially in public parks and the like, but that’s really the only thing I’ve noticed. Since my social world is full of musicians, there’s always somebody lighting up at a party – but that was the case before legalization, so I don’t really see a difference – except people are maybe a little more open about it, because they aren’t so afraid that someone will narc on them.

    But IMHO, legalization is just a no brainer. As long as pot is illegal, you’re really just allowing organized criminals to print money, and putting lots of otherwise law abiding citizens in jail – and I don’t see how that benefits anyone except the gangs and the private prison industry.

    • For the last couple of years, I have seen police ignoring marijuana use in outdoor public spaces. They know it will be legal soon and they’ve given up prosecuting the small guy.

  7. Mel

    After learning about the original reasons behind the US (and then Canada) incorrectly categorizing cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, I, a non-smoker, became a strong advocate for decriminalization and potential legalization. I thought the term ‘medical use’ wasn’t really valid but a ploy for ‘stoners’ to get the product legally.

    In the past month I have been doing extensive research on the potential benefits of using medicinal cannabis for migraine prevention and treatment. I’ve learned about our body’s endocannabinoid system and the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD, THC and the terpenes and flavinoids in the plant. In conjunction with watching The Truth About Cancer, The Sacred Plant and Chris Beat Cancer web series and learning about the origin and harmful effects of chemotherapy, I know that I would never want chemo if I developed cancer.

    There is still much to learn but after trying every known pharmaceutical and holistic prophylactic and symptomatic migraine treatment with substandard results over the past 30 years, I am hopeful that cannabis will provide some relief. We have a medical cannabis dispensary in town and I am working with my doctor to explore this option.

    As with any mind altering substance, cannabis, like alcohol and tobacco, should not be used as a recreational drug by adolescents. But then no one has died from an overdose of cannabis – the same cannot be said for heavily caffineated ‘energy’ drinks.

  8. That is really good to hear, I hope Jamaica is next in line.

  9. Nice headline! 😊

    I’ve tried pot and don’t really like the effects, but I fully support legalizing it. There was a statewide issue on medical marijuana a couple years ago in Ohio, but it was voted down.

    The triggering psychosis thing is something I hadn’t heard until recently, but it seems pretty probable with some people I know who were heavy users. So sad. They should have stressed that in school instead of the whole gateway drug idea and saying trying it once could kill you.

  10. Many of your potential objections have been studied and discarded as a non-concern. Cannabis has been one of the most studied substance over the last 30 years, with 117,000 international studies and publications

    Your Governments are choosing to ignore international findings and blocking local research (thank Harper)

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