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Is pot legalization just a lot of smoke?

['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']
['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']

Did You Know with Alan Walter

In my opinion, there are only two welcome outcomes of the recent legalization of cannabis possession for recreational use.

The first has to do with medicinal use of cannabis which has been shown to be of great benefit to many suffering a variety of ailments. Back in 2001, Canada introduced a regulated medical cannabis program, requiring a physician’s prescription, and subject to many regulations controlling the supply of the cannabis. Not the easiest route to a healthier life involving a relatively harmless product of nature.

Under the new regime governing recreational use, people seeking relief have access to a much broader range of cannabis-based products to choose from, with more freely exchanged advice and information, and less onerous regulatory oversight. Surely a more satisfactory solution than previously available.

Secondly, since 1997, public opinion polls have found an increasing majority of Canadians agree with the statement, “Smoking marijuana should not be a criminal offence.” It’s therefore encouraging to see the federal government moving on its plan to grant fast, free pardons for Canadians who were convicted of pot possession before the drug was legalized last fall.

This move is particularly important to those with a criminal record seeking employment opportunities, access to housing, or trouble-free international travel. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale hopes to have Bill C-93 pass into law by this summer.

It’s unfortunate Canada’s policies on the use of marijuana have been so affected by the puritanical outlook of neighbours to our south; the same country that adopted a failed policy of prohibition of the sale of alcoholic beverages in the years 1920 to 1933 and failed to learn from it.

Hard to believe, but U.S government propaganda in the 1930s countering marijuana use warned “BEWARE - You may be handed this drug by a friendly stranger. It contains the killer MARIJUANA – a powerful narcotic in which lurks Murder! Insanity! and Death! WARNING - dope peddlers are shrewd! They may put this drug in your tea or in your tobacco cigarette!”

Undeterred, we then saw the “War on Drugs” stepped up a notch in 1980s with the U.S. Congress enacting mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking, including marijuana, a move that has had profound negative affects on visible minorities, and gave the sale and use this natural product the label of criminality in North America.

There is some evidence that chronic use of cannabis during adolescence, a time when the human brain is still developing, is correlated in the long term with lower IQ and cognitive deficits, hence the age limitation in Canada’s new legislation. Other than that, it seems to be a relatively harmless drug, rarely addictive, but more likely to create a dependency if used daily.

My personal experience with the plant occurred soon after my emigration to Canada in the 60s. Living in Montreal at the time I became a casual user of the so-called drug.

It was an innocent enough pastime with friends, listening to Pink Floyd with the lights dimmed, and a couple of bags of potato chips handy for when the munchies came on. A regular trip to the cinema while mildly stoned to watch Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 movie, “Space Odyssey – 2001” was also a special experience, especially the nine-minute psychedelic "Star Gate" sequence that garnered a cult following.

So, all this fuss about de-criminalization to put this drug in the same category as a good stiff drink is more an exercise in coming to our senses, but some see it as something revolutionary in our world.

Of course, many hope to become rich catering to what they see as a growing market opportunity. Some ludicrous marketing claims are being made by new entrants such as “Canada could be to cannabis what France is to wine.” Really! This stuff is now grown in cavernous factory buildings under artificial grow lights. Maybe it’s the water or the soil they use.

My own relationship with the weed lasted a little more than a year. There was no evidence at the time that continued use as an adult would be harmful, but I had moved to Canada to pursue a business career and I did not want to risk even short-term effects getting in the way of my job performance, so I dropped the habit.

I was, however, a cigarette smoker until later in life when I was forced to quit by my very persuasive wife as a condition of marriage. Needless to say, the prospect of my taking up the weed again is thankfully out of the question.

Alan Walter is a retired professional engineer living in Oxford. He was born in Wales and worked in Halifax. He spends much of his time in Oxford, where he operates a small farm. He can be reached at alanwalter@eastlink.ca.

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