Last Thursday, cannabis became legal in Canada. For example, here’s my local provincial government’s online cannabis store (screenshot below). There are going to be physical storefronts too, some private-sector, but the licensing process is slow so there aren’t any in Vancouver yet, except of course for the dozens of “dispensaries” that have been up and running for years; I suppose some of them will become legal. Which is to say, it hasn’t been very dramatic. But I think it is sort of a big deal.
It’s a big deal because it’s an example of democracy actually working. We had a legal framework whose goals — stamp out pot — were not only unachievable but unsupported by evidence. In fact, the support was negative: evidence showed that the previous policy’s effects were, on balance, harmful. And one of our major political parties decided to run on an evidence-based legalization platform, won the election, and went ahead and did it.
Now, we still have a bunch of issues to sort out:
Can legal weed achieve a level of price, quality, and convenience sufficient to drive the current thriving underground trade out of business?
Is buzzed-out driving going to be a problem like drunk driving? Unlike alcohol, we totally don’t have good statistical data on what intoxication measurements correlate with elevated likelihood of accidents. And even if we did, we don’t have high-quality roadside tech for measuring it. There’s legislation in place, but everyone expects a legal/constitutional challenge more or less instantly after the first driving-while-high charge, and from what I read, that law is a pretty soft target.
What are the appropriate cannabis-use limits? Should the legal age be the same as alcohol? For high-judgment jobs like airplane pilot, what is the cannabis equivalent of their traditional “24 hours bottle-to-throttle”?
Where can you use cannabis legally? I fervently support the draconian restrictions on tobacco smoking, but at least half the justification is tobacco’s addictiveness and lethality. And I seem to recall from the seventies that people really liked to get high socially; should there be the cannabis equivalent of licensed public houses? Should they be licensed public houses?
The really interesting question, though, is who’s going to use pot, and how much? I was a college student back in the Seventies and my recollection is that:
Most people did, except for those who also didn’t drink and were just naturally abstemious.
The real “heads” did all the time and were thus not very effective as students or employees, and in some cases really screwed up their lives, and some of those stumbled off into the badlands of speed and opioids and so on, and some of those died of it. But I think that was just them, the cannabis wasn’t the important part of the story.
After a few years I started hearing people griping that weed was just making them feel stupid and paranoid.
Sometime around 1980 almost everyone I knew stopped for one reason or another, often including the discovery of a vocation: microbiology or computer programming or finance or whatever.
Me, I’m strongly convinced legalization is a step forward. People are gonna use weed, and I think it’s a fine thing that they’ll be able to get it with clearly-labeled believable levels of THC and CBD, and minus random pesticides. Because most dope dealers are skanky people you shouldn’t trust.
If you look at history, among the first public servants were the people who inspected the brewers and pubs of Europe to verify that people could trust the advertised strength of beer and advertised size of the mug it came in. So we’re on familiar ground here.
But I do wonder what social patterns will emerge, now that weed’s legal and regulated? The change feels small now, but I’ve no notion how it’ll look in the rear-view in a decade or two.