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First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

Part of Cannabis and consumers

Sticky, cloying, spicy. My olfactory glands are engulfed in a pungent, rich, primal mélange of oil and skunkweed. My lip curls. The smell confronts me like an uninvited guest. Why am I annoyed? I am not in any way opposed to pot. Normally, when I come upon it on the street, I relish the smell. I feel a thrill of recognition and give a secret cry of “Yeah, man!” to the anti-establishment message it sends. It reminds me of my younger, more radical self.

But I am not used to smelling it outside my home at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, when I’m hauling groceries up the stairs, when my hands are so full that I can hardly get my key in the door. Being hit with a wave of weed at such a moment is like seeing granny’s neglige. Not wrong. Just unexpected.

I am not stodgy about pot use: each to his own is my adage. I grew up in a small town on the British Columbia coast and pot was part of the fabric of my high-school life. I smoked my first joint as a rite of passage in Grade 8 when my classmate traded me one for a pack of cigarettes. I experienced my first body stone (the powerful high from digesting marijuana) the same year my best friend shared the pot brownies her father put in her lunch by mistake. As a youth, I was surrounded by opportunities to enjoy recreational marijuana. While I chose not to make it a habit, I have not discouraged others from a lifestyle choice that they enjoy.

So how do I explain my knee-jerk reaction to the cannabis smoke in my hallway? Am I losing touch with my more liberal self or are my parental instincts kicking in?

Last month, I had a similar response to a commercial I saw at the movies with my 16-year-old son. The ad shows a clearly impaired driver getting into a car with his friends. The twist is he is not drunk but high. The “Don’t Drive High” slogan reminds us of the new normal we can expect with the impending legalization of marijuana. The ad places alcohol, a known and accepted evil, on par with cannabis, a more taboo inebriant. Will my son think it’s perfectly fine to smoke up now that marijuana is being legalized? What do I even want him to think?

My son was 15 when he confessed to trying marijuana. We were at the bank when he blurted, “Yeah, I’ve tried pot a few times, but don’t worry mom. I didn’t like it.”

“Really?!? Do you know how bad it is for your brain? Your brain is still growing!” I seethed, while reaching up with both hands to fiercely latch them onto his scalp.

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At that moment the bank teller returned and listened to our conversation. When I apologized, she quipped, “No, please continue.”

The reality is that I can no more control my son’s rebellious experimentation than my parents could prevent mine. However, I can educate him, and give him knowledge that my parents did not have. When I was his age, I knew that I was doing something wrong because it was illegal. The legalization of pot sends a “thumbs up” message. It is important to balance this message with knowledge of the potential harms. According to Health Canada, cannabis is a psychoactive drug which alters perception. It is associated with memory loss, anxiety, psychosis, increased blood pressure and tachycardia. In contrast with other drugs, deaths related to cannabis use are not due to overdose but rather from poor decision-making and driving high. Are we getting this message out as quickly as the “don’t drive high" warnings?

In April, my son mentioned he’d be going downtown after school to check out Weed Day, or 4/20, with his girlfriend. Seeing my frown of disapproval, he added, “Don’t worry mom. She doesn’t let me smoke.”

Grappling with my own mixed feelings about pot, I went to check it out, too. On my way to Sunset Beach in Vancouver, I passed a man vaping at the top of the SeaBus stairs. Something about the smell compelled me to pause and savour its complex tang of grassy funk. The man was impeccably dressed in a beige raincoat, a black felt golfer’s cap, burnished brown leather shoes and John Lennon glasses. His eyes met mine and I realized how curious I must have looked, mid-dash, staring at him with my nostrils flaring in sensory exploration.

“I’m enjoying the smell of your smoke. It’s extraordinary,” I spluttered.

“It’s called Indian Kush,” he said. “It’s like a cup of chai tea, warm and soothing, with a hint of the Old World. You feel it in your belly. Do you want to try it?”

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Reluctantly, I turned him down.

Carrying on my way, I walked by rivers of hipsters, hippies and headstrong youth streaming through the city on their way to and from the 4/20 celebrations – teens looking for any excuse to get high, millennials promoting freedom of the individual, heavily entrenched smokers seeking reaffirmation and observers like me who were there to take it all in. We all had an extra glint in our eyes, a spring in our step. We came to celebrate something taboo – something a little out there. We were there to buck the trend.

As I walked, I wondered about the future of 4/20. Would legalization make this event banal? Would pot become as commonplace as a cup of coffee? I imagined a future where cannabis was as ubiquitous as alcohol. And what was wrong with this?

Nothing. But just as my mom struggles to comprehend gender fluidity and my grandfather railed against women in the Vancouver Club, I wanted to dig my heels in and stop change from coming.

Recognizing that this was impossible, I sat down on the bank of Sunset Beach to take in the festive atmosphere of possibly the last true 4/20. With legalization, the 4/20 of the future would no longer be a counterculture celebration of mavericks but a day to promote a new commodity. I imagined corporate booths selling shares of top cannabis stocks. There would be cannabis seedling starter kits for sale and pot-infused, kale-acai smoothies; market growth would shadow cannabis growth.

I breathed in the sticky, cloying smoke around me and smiled. Things would change, and that was going to be okay.

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Maureen Duteau lives in North Vancouver, B.C.

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