Canada: Confronting The Etiquette Of Legal Cannabis

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Photo Credit: Jacqueline Collins

October 17, as all of Canada now knows, will be epic. The prime minister has announced, with a patriotic flourish, that it’s the day cannabis will be legal. The day 95 years of pot prohibition will end. We may not have free trade on that day, but at least we can console ourselves with a joint.

By coincidence – the PM didn’t actually consult me on this – Oct. 17 is also my birthday. This has led friends to recommend that the two auspicious occasions be celebrated together. A Birthday bong! Baked brownies! Doobies and dessert. You get the idea.

That all sounds like it could be fun, but in fact, it’s a bit awkward. You see, I’ve never tried cannabis. Not as a teen, not as a young adult, not even as a journalist supposedly adventuresome enough to walk in another’s shoes. I don’t smoke, let alone toke. Never inhaled, never ingested, never vaped.

Yet according to Statistics Canada, almost 43 per cent of Canadians over 15 have at least tried ganja (where did I go wrong?). Among boomers, almost 46 per cent say they have used cannabis at least once; the number is higher for younger adults. Not coincidentally, surveys have consistently shown overwhelming support for legalization, even among those who don’t puff.

But we’re not a nation of herb-heads. StatsCan, which has by now developed a pretty thorough database on all things weed-related, also reports that only 14 per cent of people over 15 used cannabis in the latest three-month period for which the agency queried. Sobriety reigns, kind of.

In addition, the mere fact that pot will become legal doesn’t mean people will significantly change their view of what those ’60s kids called grass. Legalization won’t propel most non-consumers into the province’s sterile little pot shops (though it will attract some). To make sure of this, the government is severely restricting how cannabis companies can market their products. Bland will be the order of the day for your bud.

Still, there’s no denying the dilemma. Some former abstainers will at least dabble with dope, for various reasons – out of curiosity, because it’s no longer illicit, because it’s cool, because they want to be equipped to talk to their kids about it. I’m not the only cannabis virgin who feels vaguely conflicted about the choice ahead.

And health-wise? Like many adults, I drink alcohol (in moderation, I hasten to add!), and alcohol is a very potent drug. So, the “my body is a temple” argument doesn’t really cut it.

Other puzzlements will arise. What to do at a party if there are cannabis-infused canapés? (Will I even know?) What happens in future when the beverage industry offers enhanced summer cocktails at some reception on the Hill?

There are a few months to go before Oct. 17, time to reflect on just how legalization might alter the social behaviour of even those who have professed no previous interest in pot. In my case, perhaps I’ll duck the issue altogether, and spend that day with Cheech and Chong, Easy Rider and The Big Lebowski.

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