It seems there is no task in Canada as thankless as legalizing marijuana. Last week, the Liberals announced their plans to fulfill their campaign promise and do just that – by July 1, 2018, at the latest – and a chorus of complaints went round the country.
People opposed to legalization of any kind, public-policy-failure aficionados, were of course displeased. Those convinced that anything short of the government passing Bill 420 on the left-hand side, printed on small white papers, mandating that their local MP spark up a doobie for them when they get home from work is an infringement of their fundamental rights were also put out. No one seems happy.
I'm as guilty as the next person. I am bothered by the stipulation that, under the rules as they are currently taking shape, only four marijuana plants will be allowed to be grown per household.
Why per household, I want to know. Why not per resident adult? Surely this four-plant limit will discriminate against couples? At ease, gay people: I may have found the real threat to traditional marriage.
It's not always easy being in a committed relationship. Far too many married Canadians have to share their home with someone who just cannot load the dishwasher properly, and soon they'll have to share their pot-growing potential, too.
I would amend that limit, Liberals. Many parts of Canada already have a housing crisis – you go ahead with this plan, you watch how quickly boomers finally start throwing their adult children out of the house.
My mother, enjoying a little medicinal weed mid-chemo this week, is concerned about this as well. "It is such a pretty plant," she said, adding, "Oh! Your father's just come in from the garden."
She was laughing harder than I have heard her laugh in a while.
"What?" I said.
"He did a ballet twirl, he's had a nibble of the edibles."
She also called me this week to say, "I had the best dream. I dreamed we had a really small elephant, just wandering around the house." This is how I know I was born into this family. "And the most wonderful part of the dream was," she said, "that you and the children were here visiting when the elephant spoke its first full sentence."
Clearly things are pretty trippy over there. This is new.
Sale of edibles is not currently legal in Canada, and my mum's not up to baking these days. I didn't inquire about the provenance. I can only assume my mother stays in touch with some of my old high-school friends. Edibles are something the government is moving more slowly on, a rare case of the government encouraging smoking. There is a legitimate concern that edibles will be consumed by children, especially if they're made as appetizing- looking as, say, dishwasher tablets, which the kids can't get enough of these days.
I'd argue that most homes are brimming with things that are potentially dangerous to children, from sharp knives to prescription pills, and we encourage, warn, educate and take legal action but also trust parents to put these things where their children can't get them. We should keep doing that.
Dear government: My mum is entitled to whatever comfort she can find and she's a one-woman temperance movement of smoking, so please keep that in mind and move this thing along. Also, she likes wine gums, if that helps, but there is no reason for drugs to look like gummy bears. I think we can work this out.
Some people complained that the Liberals' decision to set the age at which one can legally buy weed at 18 – because that is, after all, the age of majority (individual provinces will be allowed to raise that age) – is irresponsible. There seems to be a general misunderstanding about legalization; the government is not advising 18-year-olds, or anyone else in Canada, to smoke weed. They are just recognizing that a fair, but hardly alarming, number of us do, and are moving the country in the direction of not pissing in the wind.
In a 2015 Forum Research poll, close to 20 per cent of those surveyed said they had smoked marijuana in the past year. When asked about their future weed-smoking ambitions, 30 per cent of Canadians said they'd be likely to light up within a given year provided weed were legal.
Will that relatively small increase actually occur, and if so, will it specifically occur among the young, for whom, understandably, the most concern is expressed?
Given what teenagers tell me about the current abundant supply available to them – I know when I was growing up, scoring a 26er was a coup; weed was in Derek's locker – I suspect not. In fact, data from a 2015 Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment study showed that, after that state's 2012 move to legalization, 21 per cent of Colorado's teenagers had smoked weed in the past 30 days, a slight drop from the 25 per cent who had gotten stoned in the past month in 2009, prior to legalization.
Similarly, a federal study showed that in 2014, the year commercial marijuana was made available in Colorado and Washington State (29 states have a legalization program of some sort), the rates of use remained virtually unchanged.
It turns out not everybody must get stoned, and those who want to are mostly already doing it. Concerns about the "normalization" that will supposedly occur if we stop sending people to jail for getting buzzed, eating all the chips and enjoying that 5-per-cent fresh comedy on Netflix more than it deserves overlook the fact that many teenagers aren't all that interested in being normal.
Think of this more as "staidification." The government will do to marijuana what your dad did to lolcats.
There are some pretty good reasons not to smoke weed, or a lot of weed, especially if you're young; but reasonable, unalarming, informed education about this is the best recourse. Good to keep the police and the pontificating out of it.
Naturally, Shoppers Drug Mart, London Drugs Ltd. (a large chain in Western Canada) and the LCBO here in Ontario are all over this pot-ential money-maker. They'd all like to be the Derek's Locker of Canada, but I'm with the C.D. Howe Institute on this one.
In a letter released on Thursday, addressed to Bill Blair, the MP the Liberals have put in the unenviable position of overseeing legalization, C.D. Howe research fellow Anindya Sen, who is also an economics professor at the University of Waterloo, urged the government to allow independent, licensed and regulated retailers to sell marijuana.
Leaving the retail side of weed in the hands of these boutique-type outlets, rather than huge companies and government outlets, Prof. Sen argues, would largely avoid potential conflicts – a situation in which a province might attempt to bolster weed sales to pay its bills.
I just think it'd be a shame to leave the dispensaries for medical marijuana that have sprung up around Toronto out of the full-legalization shift. Specialized outlets with detailed product knowledge would, no doubt, like most bar owners and restaurateurs, guard their licences very closely. As one-trick ponies they'd have the most to lose, and if the product is legal and recognized as recreational, there should be no ignominy or judgment in being passionate about it.
The Shoppers-Drug-Mart-will-save-us option bothers me in the same way that the fact that Loblaws will soon be allowed to sell beer in Ontario but that Domingo – who owns Fairway, my local corner store, a man who's there every day running a tight ship, and knows the names and ages of most of the children in the neighbourhood – won't have that option. I bet Domingo wouldn't just refuse to sell you a six-pack, you hypothetical 15-year-old boozehound. He'd tell your mom.
There's an implicit mistrust of small business at play here that's unfair to both owners and consumers, in that it threatens to homogenize our retail landscape. Also, my journalistic research shows, the customer service at these mom-and-pop pot shops puts most other stores in the country to shame, so let's allow the dope depanneurs, I say.
Although I realize that, like the rest of Canada, I'm playing fantasy football with our blossoming pot laws.