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Weed Is Now Legal in Canada (But I Promise I’m Not High)

Cannabis dispensary on Merivale Road, Ottawa

Today, Canada has become the second country in the world where recreational marijuana is legal on a national level, as Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, goes into effect.

Technically:

  • If you are of legal age (18 in Quebec and Alberta, 19 everywhere else), you can possess, in public, 30 grams of legal cannabis, dried or its equivalent in non-dried form.
  • It’s legal to share that amount with other adults.
  • It’s legal to buy fresh cannabis and cannabis oil from a provincially licensed retailer, or online from a federally licensed producer.
  • It’s legal to grow four cannabis plants per residence for personal use from a licensed seed or seedling (except in Quebec and Manitoba).
  • It’s legal to make food or drinks using cannabis at home (the sale of edibles or concentrates should be legal in a year).

It’s… a cultural shift.

Honestly, I’m still getting used to it—“it” being local newspapers explaining where to buy pot, headlines highlighting concerns about meeting the demand for cannabis, women’s magazines telling readers the best way to enjoy marijuana and official information like “Canada Post will deliver your pot” and “on flights within Canada, you will be allowed to take up to 30 grams of cannabis with you.”

Suddenly, decades of prohibition are coming to an end.

Suddenly, cannabis is no longer an illegal drug.

Suddenly, pot users aren’t criminals but customers.

And I’m suddenly realizing I’m terribly naïve.

I have a confession to make—I smoke cigarettes but I don’t smoke pot.

I’m not even knowledgeable about cannabis culture and I didn’t think there was one in the first place. I used to assume that most people under 70 have tried weed a few times, maybe smoked for a while in their teens or twenties, and then just stop. Apparently, I’m dead wrong. Pot is popular. Cannabis is an industry, a lobby, a pastime and a political promise fulfilled.

A few years ago, I went to a screening interview for a security clearance and I was quizzed about my “drug use.” “I did smoke,” I admitted. During these rigorous interviews, it’s best to admit and explain. Lying isn’t an option. “How many joints do you smoke a month?” the investigator went on. “Oh, no! I must have smoked the total of one joint between the age of 16 and 20, and the last time I did smoke was in 2002, in the Australian desert,” I explained. The investigator laughed. “Alright, let’s skip the question about drug use and move on to alcohol… what? You don’t drink?”

My security clearance was approved, by the way.

And I didn’t lie—I never mastered the art of rolling a joint on an album cover and I’ve never tried any other drug.

As a teen, I didn’t smoke pot for practical reasons. First of all, I had no money to buy weed. Second, even though my parents are very liberal (it’s not secret that my dad did dabble into drugs—plural, I think—as a teen), they wouldn’t have approved cannabis use. The day I got caught smoking cigarettes at age 17 was not a fun one…

I had plenty of chances to take a few puffs when travelling but I didn’t because one of my rules is to stay out of legal trouble abroad. Many countries have harsh anti-drug laws—I’ll never forget the “dada means death” (death penalty for drugs) in Malaysia. Backpackers may or may not get away with pot but since I didn’t feel the need to smoke, I passed on those full-moon parties and hostel joints.

It wasn’t a big sacrifice. Getting high and being stoned doesn’t appeal to me. I like to be in control. This isn’t how I “escape” or relax.

But other people do and that’s just fine.

I first noticed the cultural change in Canada a couple of years ago, when marijuana dispensaries were opening everywhere. It reminded me of the late 1990s mobile phone boom in France, when every empty retail space was turning into a mobile shop. I never understood the rules around medical marijuana use and distribution. How on earth do people manage to get a prescription? I can’t even get antibiotics at the walk-in clinic when we’re sick! Do that many people need medical marijuana? There are dozens of stores just in Ottawa!

Over the past few months, while I’m still getting the death glare from strangers when I smoke a boring cigarette outside, I noticed many people smoking weed in public.

I’m still not sure what to think of recreational marijuana legalization.

The war on drugs doesn’t work and I don’t think cannabis users should be arrested, prosecuted or jailed. I’m leaning toward decriminalization of all drugs because it sounds like a better strategy than the current one that doesn’t work (cf. the opioid epidemic…). As a matter of fact, I think incarceration should be reserved for those people who present a danger to society.

But something bothers me with total legalization and I can’t pinpoint what it is exactly. Maybe the fact that for-profit businesses could market marijuana aggressively because, you know, money. Maybe the fact that I don’t think we should get too casual about getting high because let’s face it, it’s a lot harder to have your wits about when you’re stoned. Maybe the fact that stoners can be fucking annoying.

So, what’s gonna happen? Probably not much—people will get high legally, that’s all. Canadians won’t descend into homicidal, sexually fuelled depravity, although everyone will have to remember to lie at the border—U.S. guards can still bar Canadians from entering that country for life if they admit to using pot.

Will consumption of poutine skyrocket? Will Tim Hortons sell pot brownies? Will the demand for pizza delivery and maple syrup increase?

Will Canadians be known for being nice, friendly and super mellow?

… oh, wait.

That’s what it was!

Message from the Government of Ontario, Merivale Road, Ottawa

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