Welcome to stoner nation.
Depending on where you live in Canada, getting your hands on some pot just got a whole lot easier. A number of provincial governments were scheduled to open the doors Wednesday to several new, state-regulated cannabis shops, no doubt already fantasizing about the millions in tax revenue they hope will soon start pouring into their treasuries.
Some jurisdictions have decided to take a go-slow approach. Ontario won’t unveil any stores until next spring. British Columbia decided to open just one, in the Interior of the province, with a promise of more to follow. That said, buying marijuana in Vancouver remains, as always, as easy as purchasing milk from the corner store.
The question for many is: What happens now? Is this the slippery slope to a drug-induced oblivion? Will our productivity begin plummeting, along with our quality of life? There are certainly some expecting Canada to now enter a period of sustained moral and economic decay, precipitated by the legalization of a drug many believe leads to other, far more dangerous options.
A lot of these concerns range from ridiculous to overblown. Mostly, it will be impossible to detect any discernible change in the day-to-day life of this country. We’re not going to suddenly start seeing hordes of people walking the streets zombie-like, distant, with glazed expressions on their faces. Nor are bosses likely to notice workers giggling uncontrollably all day.
No, life will go on just fine, with little difference in how we function.
There are many obvious benefits to legalization. It should mostly extinguish, over time, the black market and the criminals who have controlled it. Instead of people buying weed from some guy on a street corner, or from the friend of a friend of a friend, they can now get it from a government-regulated vendor. People will know exactly what they’re getting, how strong or weak the product they’re purchasing actually is. There should be fewer unpleasant surprises, with people overcome, in some cases, by the strength of the pot they are smoking.
Now that weed is legal, the police will have to spend even less of their scarce resources dealing with this area.
But to pretend the transition we’re making will be problem-free would be naive.
There seems little doubt, for instance, that there will be more people operating motor vehicles who are impaired. In Washington State, where cannabis was legalized in 2012, there was an increase in the number of fatal vehicular accidents in which marijuana was found present in the driver’s system.
According to research conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, between 2013 and 2014 there was a doubling in the number of road fatalities in which pot may have played a role, from 8 per cent to 17 per cent. It’s not difficult to imagine a similar trend emerging here.
There will be issues in the workplace as well.
What does an employer who suspects an employee is showing up to work stoned do? While I don’t expect many people to use legalization as an excuse to suddenly start showing up to the office half-baked, there undoubtedly will be some. There will also likely be complications around this issue after work hours, perhaps when someone’s services are needed to deal with some emergency.
Does a person who may have just smoked a joint heed the call and show up under the influence, come up with some phony excuse for refusing the request or just cop to being impaired? Employment lawyers are already fielding calls around the rights of employees in an era of legalization. How far can an employer go in terms of testing to see if an employee is under the influence of cannabis at work?
While companies in the oil sands have been dealing with drugs-in-the-workplace issues for some time, they are bracing for even more problems now – something that is a real concern when you’re talking about jobs that involve operating heavy machinery.
All of that said, there are now nine U.S. states that have legalized marijuana and in none of them has the sky fallen, or have social issues emerged to a degree that has made any of them reconsider the decision. Many of the problems that states had to deal with after legalization were there prior to it.
There are plenty of Canadians who are uncomfortable with this decision and always will be. But there are certainly more who feel its time has come. We’re about to see how it all plays out.