Legal Pot

Hop to it!

By Fred Stenson

So, we are finally doing it: legal marijuana. Mind you, I feel I’ve experienced this twice before. In 2003 the Chrétien government had a bill in the House to decriminalize the possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana. If you were caught, you would get a ticket, just as with speeding. Likewise, cultivation of up to seven plants would be a summary offence. The day this news was announced, I went to my local grocery store. Crossing through the parking lot, I walked into a mighty cloud of pot smoke. Two ’60s veterans like myself were toking away happily with their windows down—pre-celebrating. At the entrance to the store, another cloud wafted my way; a young employee, leaning against the wall during his break, had fired up a fat one.

So there we were, a pot-decriminalized state, or almost—but the bill did not pass. It died on the order paper when Parliament prorogued, and word was it hadn’t been an accident. The US Drug Enforcement Agency had kneeled on Chrétien to stop the bill. The Martin government produced similar legislation with a similar fate in 2004. After that it was the Harper Conservatives, and though Steve liked to go on TV, play piano and sing that he got “high with a little help from his friends,” he was officially anti-legalization. Fast forward to today. Justin Trudeau campaigned on legalization and got a majority mandate to complete the move. He also had the courage to ignore foreign interference and “git ’er done,” as we like to say.

Soon after the Trudeau government officially announced legalization was going ahead, I happened to be spending a few days in downtown Vancouver. I was on foot, and I started noticing the smell of pot all around me. I commenced a little game with myself to see if I could walk a whole block without encountering pot smoke. Well, I never did, except once when crossing through an indoors mall.

So when people express fears about what will happen, what sorts of mayhem awaits Canada in the wake of marijuana’s legalization, I suggest they relax. I don’t mean that nothing bad will happen; I mean, rather, that whatever is about to happen has happened already. If we start noticing problems with cannabis consumers, it won’t be because the problems are new; it will be that we’ve only now decided to start noticing them or fixing blame for them on weed.

Pot comes with a long menu of negative side effects. Disappointment isn’t listed, but it should be. Wait a minute. I’m not elated. What the hell?

In the run-up to Canada’s Weed Freedom Day, media has been checking in on Colorado and Washington, which legalized in 2012. What dangers have these states experienced? Judging by what I’ve read, a primary danger we should be aware of is that our right-wing pundits and politicians will probably start blaming legal pot for homelessness.

As for my personal suggestions of what to watch out for, I’ll parrot the old Woody Allen joke about cocaine: “I can’t do it because I become unbearably wonderful.” Cannabis can also have this effect (as can alcohol) of making you feel you’re just a tremendous social hit today. Try to bear in mind what others might be thinking, such as: “Will he ever shut up?”

Pot, of course, can also cause the opposite of self-aggrandization, which is to say: paranoia. I have noticed that few people talk about feeling paranoid when stoned—except when someone takes the plunge of bringing it up. Then, most everyone admits to having felt that way. It is never fun, when everyone else is laughing up a storm, to be locked in your own brain, thinking, “I’m a fool and everyone can see I’m a fool. See? See that look on that guy’s face? He knows!”

Is marijuana good for you? It’s probably a godsend for certain medical and psychological conditions, but, otherwise, probably not. Just like alcohol, it comes with a long menu of negative side effects. Disappointment isn’t listed for either alcohol or marijuana, but should be. Wait a minute. I’m not elated. What the hell?

Am I happy or sad that marijuana is legal? I’m not sure it’s either emotion. Back in 1975 I would have had a huge party. What I will be doing on the night of October 17 is sitting quietly at home. I probably won’t have a toke for old time’s sake, because the pot of the present day knocks me on my keester. However, I am relieved and satisfied to see pot legal, because it was silly and hypocritical to have a huge legal economy based on alcohol, while putting people in jail for possession and use of another recreational drug, one that wasn’t Canada’s traditional way of getting out of your head. You, sir, are drunk. Don’t drive, and have a happy evening. You, sir, are stoned. Get in the police car. It was insane, and now Canada’s laws are one statute less insane. For that, I send congratulations to the Trudeau government.

Oh hell, maybe I will go out. Maybe I’ll go to a bar—or maybe just to a parking lot. No sense buying what you can inhale for free.

Fred Stenson’s most recent novel is Who By Fire (Doubleday). Other books include The Trade, Lightning and The Great Karoo.


Missing Answers

On February 23, 2021, something amazing happened—almost a miracle, as far as I’m concerned. I got to ask Premier Jason Kenney a question during a news conference (about the upcoming legislative sitting). Before that, the last time I’d been called on to ask a question was December 18, 2020—67 days ...

My Mother’s Story

My mother was a refugee, and Canada was her refuge. My mother died this August, a few days before her 81st birthday. And as I sat down to write her eulogy, I kept thinking about the confluence of events that brought her to Alberta, and about Alberta’s legacy as a home ...

Once Were Mountains

The democracy thing. Here in 2021 the Alberta premier was having trouble getting his mind around it. In his Ottawa days he’d been taught to forget the concept of government by the people. His political master (then and now) advised him to ignore voters or thrash them. Even when functioning ...