Original cannabis journalism for Canadians

Ready or not, we've legalized pot

As a new era dawns in Canada — one in which the autumnal sunrise is figuratively obscured by a wispy haze of legal marijuana smoke — there will likely be two diametrically opposed reactions:

“Well, it’s about time, isn’t it?”

And...

“Oh, my Gawd! We’re not ready!!!”

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As a new era dawns in Canada — one in which the autumnal sunrise is figuratively obscured by a wispy haze of legal marijuana smoke — there will likely be two diametrically opposed reactions:

"Well, it’s about time, isn’t it?"

And...

"Oh, my Gawd! We’re not ready!!!"

Each is, in its own way, a valid observation. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers on his most hotly debated 2015 election campaign promise, Canadians have nearly as many questions as they do answers when it comes to the legalization of recreational cannabis use.

Recreational cannabis becomes legal in Canada Wednesday. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press files)

Recreational cannabis becomes legal in Canada Wednesday. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press files)

The legalization of personal pot consumption has, indeed, been a long time in coming. Attitudes about marijuana as a social intoxicant have shifted steadily toward acceptance in the decades since the overheated 1936 pot-propaganda film Reefer Madness sought to scare America’s youth straight; in the current climate, in which Manitoba is one of many jurisdictions in the grips of a full-blown methamphetamine crisis, discussions of the pros and cons of pot legalization seem positively quaint.

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Level-headed observers of the orderly transition from prosecutable pot possession to acceptable bud access have rightly predicted that not much is likely to change in most Canadians’ lives with the arrival of legalized marijuana use. Those who were weed aficionados before Oct. 17 will undoubtedly continue on their merrily mellowed way; the only change might be in where and how they acquire their cannabis.

And those who have been disinclined to consume cannabis are unlikely — with the possible exception of a few new users for whom the fear of arrest and conviction was the sole barrier between them and a long-denied buzz — to suddenly be seized by the urge to smoke up.

The urban landscape might look a bit different as marijuana-related businesses establish their storefronts in the hope of attracting legal-pot customer traffic, but the actual consumption of cannabis in public spaces will remain even less welcome (and, in terms of fines, much more costly) than tobacco smoking.

Despite the laid-back expectations for Day 1 of Canada’s legal-cannabis era, however, many of the questions raised by Canadians — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister among the most vocal — who believe Mr. Trudeau has pushed too hard, too fast to make good on his election pledge still remain unanswered.

Concerns about the long-term effects of marijuana use — particularly on young people, whose brains are still developing at the age they’ll now be legally allowed to purchase and consume cannabis — have not been addressed to the satisfaction of some critics.

Also worthy of consideration are the many grey areas associated with how legal consumption of cannabis will be incorporated into the lives of Canadians.

Some employers, including some airlines and law-enforcement agencies, have imposed restrictions on leisure-time marijuana use that effectively prevent certain employees from ever consuming a substance that is now fully legal.

Meanwhile, police agencies will increase their vigilance regarding cannabis-impaired driving, though uncertainty lingers about how — and how effectively — roadside testing will be conducted.

Manitoba’s government on Monday issued some last-minute advice and warnings for the leap into the legal-pot epoch, launching a "Know My Cannabis Limits" campaign that focuses on responsible consumption and observes, "You don’t need to try it just because it’s legal."

It’s probably that last sentiment that will guide most Canadians’ behaviour. Ready or not, however — and one has the distinct impression there’s still a significant level of "not" — a new era has arrived.

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