A cloud of judgement still lingers as consumers leave the shadows in Canada

Published Nov 12, 2019 02:00 p.m. ET
iStock / HighGradeRoots

Canadian cannabis activists have fought for decades to alter legislation and remove the stigma and criminal records from those who chose to consume it. A long hard battle that was finally won in October of 2018. Federal marijuana legalization changed the country overnight with a slight shift of law, allowing both recreational tokers and medicinal patients legal avenues to obtain, possess and even grow cannabis.

It's wonderful that we finally have something to celebrate, but while the world watches from afar for inspiration to plan their own version of federal marijuana legalization, it is important to highlight the struggles that remain a reality for so many people. As the laws are easy enough to change, but shifting societal views and norms is another matter entirely. The wounds left behind from decades of exposure to radicalized anti-cannabis propaganda are going to take time and effort to heal, and how we handle it (or don’t) is going to make a significant impact on society.

Federal marijuana legalization doesn’t provide equal access

It might sound easy enough to grow your own marijuana plant for free product, but then where would you locate the cannabis seeds? As the only legal suppliers of cannabis seeds carry a mere handful of low THC seeds that don’t meet the needs of most consumers. When and or if you find seeds, would you know what to do with them or how to grow them without affordable or reliable advice? What about information on a strain you might need to achieve the desired results? Would you know where to find that information?

The struggles of the average consumer in Canada ends with the restrictive laws included in federal marijuana legalization, but they began much earlier, and the issue we struggle with most is general acceptance. No one wants a medal for smoking weed, but until society accepts that consumers of marijuana plant products deserve permissions and allowances just as drinkers of alcohol, this stigma is only going to linger and cause even more damage.

Citizens still judged for smoking weed

Most Canadians who have the luxury of living in a country where smoking weed is legal would never dream of telling everyone that they enjoy it, as the backlash can be too strong to come back from. Whether it’s an angry boss that doesn’t approve of your substance choice despite it having no influence on productivity or responsibility, or a judgmental neighbor, or some other individual, the hate for cannabis is still strong among older generations.

This rash and mostly uneducated judgement keep many Canadians from being open about their substance choice for fear of losing work opportunity or being cast out from well-established social circles. Some even go so far as to legitimize their “need” for smoking weed by obtaining a medical license as some form of excuse. While some of us have been able to escape the dark shadows and enjoy the occasional puff in public, many still hide for fear of social persecution.

What still needs to change with federal marijuana legalization in Canada

The biggest and most cited issue with legalization as it sits is how impossible the regulations make it for the legitimate cannabis industry to establish itself. If you were to ask Google to search for the ‘closest dispensary near me’ what you would find is mainly unlicensed black-market options. Somehow the Canadian market is nearly crashing with reduce sales figures each quarter, and yet there are almost three times as many illegal dispensaries as there are legitimate shops with more appearing daily.


That is because the federal government went against their vigorous promises of a free market that would include options like vape lounges, cafes, edibles restaurants, cannabis-themed events, and cannabis sales in venues like concerts where alcohol is normally the substance provided. None of this became a reality, as the federal government offered each city the ability to opt-out of hosting dispensaries, and each province the power to decide how many dispensaries there would be, and with no limits set to the games that people would have to play and pay for to enter the market, like the Ontario lottery system.

What that means is that Canadians can currently enjoy smoking weed in the comfort of their own home, and in certain specifies public areas, but when they do so they are heavily judged and never catered to even while attending cannabis-specific events where one would expect the menu choice to include the plant of honor. The thousands of investors, entrepreneurs, and pre-prohibition herbalists had their dreams crushed when it was decided that no venue serving liquor could be associated with cannabis and that no indoor exceptions, including the case of edibles, would be made.

The fear and lack of licensing make little to no sense to the average consumer who knows that smoking weed is safer than drinking alcohol, which is widely accepted, and some would say over offered substance across the country. Leading to thousands of deaths every single year, while the marijuana plant and everything it touches is still heavily censored, shielded, regulated, or entirely banned.

Other things we could do to reduce the stigma

One of the biggest hopes that many advocates and activists had in mind with federal marijuana legalization was with those who had been wrongly convinced due to the status of a drug. Beginning in 2019 some Canadian citizens with small-time criminal charges were qualified to apply for removal of these charges from their records, but it came at a cost of around $500 with no guarantee of approval.

The process also shut out the thousands of people weighed down by charges for selling, distributing, or growing cannabis, which are not considered to be a small-time crime. That means that those who were doing the jobs of the millionaire cannabis producer companies, pre-legalization are not only not welcome to join the industry but also prohibited from living a fair quality of life due to the restrictions of a criminal past.

We could completely remove these barriers and in turn the stigma for Canadians by relieving everyone who committed non-violent cannabis-related crimes of their record, running educational campaigns with every intention to clear the air surrounding some of the most harmful and incorrect stereotypes, and a general acceptance of the cannabis market as one that must be allowed. It could help consumers, business people, investors, medical patients, and economy if we could just put this horrible past behind us and begin a new in an exciting world that can openly celebrate legal weed.

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