The healing of a nation?

Bob Marley once said that marijuana offered the means to heal a nation. We may have the opportunity to test his belief as of October 17th, the date on which Canada’s legalization of recreational marijuana comes into effect.

It has been a long and slow road from Justin Trudeau’s announcement in September 2015 that, if elected, the Liberals would make legalization of marijuana an early priority; no doubt a slower road than he anticipated when he predicted it could take between a few months and one to two years. Trudeau’s goal was to fix a failed system and remove the criminal element from the production, distribution and sale of cannabis:

“It is our intention to stop Mr. Harper’s failed approach on marijuana.”

After all is said and done, though, it remains unclear just how far this road has taken us towards making recreational marijuana readily available and socially acceptable.

Full disclosure

I use marijuana; not heavily, but regularly, and have for many years. It is my substance of choice when I want to relax and blur the edges of reality a bit as well as when I want to get a good night’s sleep. I have a problematic relationship with alcohol, but have no such difficulties with marijuana.

Because its use has been illegal, I am cautious about when, where and with whom I smoke. I don’t think it is likely I would ever be charged for my modest consumption of something that, after all, just makes me a happier person who is nicer to be around, but I don’t want to risk the professional embarrassment or loss of credibility that might follow if such an arrest were to happen.

To inhale or not to inhale

There has been considerable political resistance to the legalization of recreational marijuana and a tendency on the part of many politicians to distance themselves from admitting to any personal use of it.

Among the few who have, refreshingly, admitted to actually inhaling it, is former U.S. President Barak Obama, who said in a televised interview:

“When I was a kid I inhaled regularly. That was the point.”

Former leader of the federal NDP, the late Jack Layton, told a MuchMusic interviewer that he had inhaled “and some might say I never exhaled.”

The “not me” approach to marijuana taken by many politicians seems to have informed the rather straight-laced approach to legalization, which is unfortunate.

I have not paid a lot of attention to what is actually going to be different on October 17th until the past few days when I did some research. Here is a bit of a backgrounder.

Buying recreational marijuana

How marijuana is sold is regulated by the provinces, which vary considerably in their approach. At the moment, the plan in Ontario is for marijuana to be sold in provincially run stores. Overseen by the LCBO, the Ontario Cannabis Store will open shops in 40 communities by the end of 2018, starting with four, located in Guelph, Kingston, Toronto and Thunder Bay.

However, during the provincial election campaign, Doug Ford indicated he would like to see the sale of marijuana handed over to the private sector, so current plans could change.

People 19 years of age and over will  be able to buy up to 30 grams (approximately one ounce) of marijuana per visit.

The OCS will also sell seeds and seedlings for personal cultivation.

Grow your own

Home cultivators won’t be able to grow marijuana in their backyard this summer, since legalization only comes into effect in the fall. Growing pot plants for personal recreational use will be limited to four plants per dwelling-house.

We had a discussion at a family dinner the other day about what this really means, and my 12-year-old grandson had some perceptive questions and comments. What, he asked, is a dwelling-house? We looked at the Bill, which says it is defined as it is in the section 2 of the Criminal Code: a definition that is confusing at best, but seems to mean a place where someone lives.

Next question: Could someone with a garden grow marijuana for someone else who does not have a garden? Not if it amounted to more than four plants for that dwelling-house, I said.  But, he said, what if the person with the garden rented out small plots to friends so they could grow their marijuana there? And what if those people also paid a small fee to the person with the garden to take care of their plants for them?

At this point, I felt well out of my depth, as both a lawyer and a grandmother. Was my grandson headed to life as a successful entrepreneur or was he developing a keen criminal mind? I turned the topic of conversation to the delicious local organic strawberries that had appeared on the table while we were discussing marijuana.

Smoking pot

I have to admit that over the past year, as Canada has inched closer and closer to legalizing pot, I have fantasized about a future in which I could stroll through a park or my neighbourhood or step outside a pub or restaurant and enjoy a few tokes. Gone, I thought, would be the days of creeping into alleys to indulge, something that becomes less and less attractive the older I get.

No more fears, I thought, of embarrassing headlines: “Feminist senior charged with pot possession: grandmother of four caught smoking in alley.”

Sadly for me, there will be no such strolling, at least in Ontario, where use of recreational marijuana in public places remains prohibited.

This strikes me as ridiculous. As it is, I have to walk through clouds of cigarette smoke on city sidewalks and even in many parks. If I walk late at night, I have to make my way around drunken revellers, some of whom can be annoying and even aggressive. I would far rather walk through a group of laid back pot smokers and inhale that second hand smoke, but that day has not yet arrived.

A Calvinist tone

There is, generally, a fairly tight-lipped approach to this change in the law. It feels a bit like the government is saying: “Well, smoke if you must, but we don’t want you to actually enjoy it.”

Packaging is required to be unappealing and bland,  I can’t share a bit of grass that I grow with a friend, can’t smoke pot when I am at, say, an outdoor music festival, can’t use my garden to grow six or eight plants for friends who live in apartments.

I just hope I am going to be allowed to inhale.

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