Image courtesy of Vox.

On the night before legalization of cannabis, I joined fellow supporters of fact-based journalism to hear the latest edition of the Walrus Talks at the National Gallery. These conversations feature a group of speakers, each given 7 minutes to tackle an aspect of the chosen topic. Tonight, we talked Cannabis.

Birth of an Industry

Hilary Block took us to BC in May 1997, where we saw the launch of Canada’s first medical cannabis dispensary. The wellness center had a clinic, and cannabis became “the spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down”. The BC Compassion Club society was dedicated to patient care, which brought allies in the medical community and among police. Over 20 years later, we are seeing the end of prohibition.

Renee Gagnon shed some insight into the industry, in particular, the diminishing portion of businesses owned or controlled by women or visible minorities. She asked us to consider the system in certain areas of the U.S, where a portion of licenses for dispensaries/producers are provided to disadvantaged business enterprises (a U.S. certification for businesses).

The birth of an industry is a rare thing, and the regulations created at the outset will have implications long-term. Gagnon believes the cannabis industry has potential to be one of the most conscientious, diverse, and socially conscious industries in Canada.

Chief Manny Jules of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc band and the Indian Taxation Advisory Board agrees. Jules provided a sound rationale for indigenous communities to have their own jurisdiction over cannabis (as opposed to deferring to the Provinces), and impressed that this is a good opportunity for indigenous people to engage meaningfully in the Canadian and Global economy.

Pardoning of Criminal Records

Since the federal government announced plans to legalize marijuana, Annamaria Enenajor has been working to make sure that the criminal records of people who were convicted on charges related to possession will be pardoned.

Unpardoned charges come up in unexpected places. Landlords may deny you a home, a job or volunteer position might be conditional upon having a clean criminal records check, and possession often comes up during custody battles. This is especially problematic since Indigenous and Black people are much more likely to be convicted, even based on similar usage rates.

She was thrilled to share with us that the government is expected to announce just this on October 17. These possession charges will be pardoned!

Stigma of Smoking

A few speakers mentioned the stigma of smoking, but as Jeremy Jacob said “smoking is not necessarily a gateway to becoming a stoner”. In such a fast paced, stressful world, it’s important to find things that help you slow down and take care of yourself. For many people, this might be marijuana.

As CBC’s Terry O’Reilly said, “De-stigmatization is the first ingredient on saying goodbye to prohibition.” Yet the plant was made illegal in 1923, and impressions don’t go away overnight. More research must be done before the general population is convinced.

In June, Canopy Growth has donated $2.5 million to the University of British Columbia to create a professorship to advance some of this research, and academic studies will become easier to do now that cannabis is legal.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Canada for 18 years. Today, recreational marijuana becomes legal for adults.

The perspectives brought forward at the Walrus Talks showed that yes, October 17, 2018 is a celebration. Still, the speakers clarified that the road ahead is far from known.

Remember to stay safe on the roads and don’t drive under the influence. Legal consumption age of marijuana in Ontario is 18. In Quebec the age of consumption is presently 18 but may rise to 21.  Learn more here.