I’m a Canadian, and I’m also an educator on cannabis, spending the last couple years of my career focusing on the legal cannabis industry as it unfolds in the United States and abroad. Now my time has come to embrace the legalization of cannabis in Canada as a service provider to the legal cannabis industry and above all else, as an educator. As I sit down and look at the landscape of cannabis knowledge in Canada, I can’t help but see that as a cannabis educator, I have my work cut out for me. I’m half excited, but the other half of me rests in a bit of trepidation.
As an educator, engager, and writer, I’m concerned, and as I talk to more Canadians – the ones outside “the biz” – my concern continues to grow as I think that Canadians just aren’t really ready for such a shift in our societies with legal cannabis. I can’t help but think how hypocritical this sounds as a cannabis advocate.
Do I think we’re making a mistake in Canada with legal recreational cannabis? Not at all – this is actually one of the most significant parts of progress in my definition of my Canada… but here’s why I don’t think we’re quite ready, and a bit of what I hope we can do to be adequately prepared for the huge societal shift that is legal cannabis:
General Lack of Literacy on Medical Cannabis Access
Even as a cannabis enthusiast and believer of the medicinal uses of cannabis, I didn’t quite realize how advanced the medical cannabis industry in Canada was until I began working within it.
I couldn’t help but wonder why I had been so in the dark about what was available in medical cannabis, and how many Canadians had been let in on a secret that I really had no idea about, despite being a user of cannabis for “self-medication” most of my adult life. As I talk more to people who ask me about cannabis, I notice such a lack of literacy and knowledge on how to register to with a Health Canada approved Licenced Producer (LP) with so many in the dark on how to access medical cannabis, even when cannabis has been a part of their lives for a long time.
Despite being legalized since 2001, there’s been a somewhat quiet uptake of medical cannabis in Canada, a lot to due to the lingering stigma and the regulations that prevent advertising cannabis products.
As a result, statistically, not many Canadians are accessing the legal cannabis that they are entitled to access. Health Canada’s numbers that were reported last fiscal quarter had 235,621 patients registered for medical cannabis. Adults over the age of 18 make up 80% of Canada’s population of 36 million. When you compare this population to active medical cannabis users, we’ve barely scratched the surface… simply because we don’t yet know what’s available to us in high-quality cannabis. I find this interesting when you look at medical users in states in the USA who have legalized cannabis. California currently has over 1.2 million registered medical cannabis users, while Colorado has over 900K. I see this as indicative of a stronger permeation of cannabis knowledge and understanding that has lacked in Canada.
We've lived in a state of ignorance in terms of how cannabis effects the body and wth recreational cannabis becoming available in August, Canadians have missed out on almost 20 years of being educated on cannabis, with a rushed approach only now emerging to ensure that shifts in cannabis access are matched with thoughtful cannabis education.
Canada’s Legislators & Influencers are Clueless
I buried my head when I watched Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu (sadly representing my hometown of Sarnia, Ontario) wax poetic on cannabis legalization in the House of Commons.
The woman showed up as a political representative with a little rap about cannabis, and represented such an undignified approach to such an important societal issue. She protested bill C-45 with rhyming phrases that included:
This bill will not keep pot from our children’s hand,
There are more new infractions within this new rule,
That our courts will be flooded as will every school,
With drug-impaired driving and challenges there,
The doubling of traffic deaths and Liberals don’t care…
What’s wrong with this? So much, Gladu. In addition to creating #toasterbud, when earlier in 2017 she raised the concern of kids using toaster ovens to get high, her little riff further showed how little politicians know about cannabis. First, legalized cannabis hasn’t been linked to an increase in teenaged use, actually the opposite. Similarly, there hasn’t been any definitive data that shows a greater number of traffic deaths due to cannabis, despite this being Health Canada’s focus as they unveil their version of cannabis education.
This almost left a worse taste in my mouth than when it was reported that Quebec’s Minister for Rehabilitation, Youth Protection and Public Health, Lucie Charlebois believed that legalizing cannabis would lead to the province’s people being stoned all day. The kicker was saying that she was afraid of kids eating cannabis plants that are being grown by their neighbours… because Charlebois obviously doesn’t know that you can’t get high, or harmed, by eating raw cannabis plants, until they go through the decarboxylation process. That’s what cannabis education would have told her.
Reefer Madness hysteria continued to build around cannabis when there were nation-wide warnings about fentanyl-laced cannabis, which ended up being debunked by Canada’s Federal Health Minister. Eager to move on to regulating the cannabis industry and turning tides to position cannabis as a possible solution to the opioid crisis, use of cannabis continued to get a bad rap with continued news stories about fentanyl-laced cannabis.
Despite the federal levels debunking myths of contaminated cannabis, Public Health doctor Chris Mackie of London, Ontario continued to warn about fentanyl in cannabis, creating a stir around the perceived dangers of using cannabis. Fortunately for people like me, this just strengthens the need for regulation and cannabis education, however annoying the recent reefer madness was to those in cannabis trying to elevate cannabis’ important place in health.
Gaps in Primary Care’s Understanding of Cannabis & Legal Cannabis Consumption
I recently had a talk with someone who works in a primary health setting who opened my eyes to how much of a gap there is between what medical cannabis doctors know and what primary and emergent care doctors know about cannabis. This health care worker found that when the area of cannabis was broached within her professional management when approached by a representative of the Canadian cannabis industry, there was an overall lack of interest, if not resistance to the idea of exploring cannabis in the primary care setting.
Although medical cannabis is now going to be making its way to being available within some of our most recognized health retailers like Shoppers Drug Mart, this gap I see within primary and emergent care neglects to recognize cannabis as a substance of use in patients.
With recreational cannabis being available, and use becoming more normalized within lifestyle and health and wellness circles due to this shift, General Practitioners have to be able to have the cannabis discussion with their patients. They should talk about sourcing, strains, dosage, and how it’s used and potentially abused, especially when it comes to cannabis’ role in exacerbating, or relieving, symptoms of mental health. Cannabis shouldn’t be something that’s not talked about at any level of health care.
Not Making the Same Mistakes We Did with Alcohol
Although it was part of my youth, as an adult and cannabis educator, I am not in support of teens and children gaining access to cannabis.
While I’ll always stand by the benefits of cannabis use in adults for both medicinal and recreational purposes, I don’t believe cannabis should be consumed until adulthood. While some cannabis advocates dispute this, the evidence is strong that points to cannabis having a significant effect on the developing brain, leading to the potential for serious mental health issues later in life.
My concerns hinge on the idea and the logical fact that an introduction of any kind of substance in the developing brain can cause a disruption in the process of development that could have long-lasting effects. I’ve read too much about mental health, cannabis use disorder, and schizophrenia that I recognize that there are points in a person’s development where cannabis use should be refrained from.
While I never align cannabis use with alcohol, I do know what recreational substance use is about. I used fake IDs as a teenager to get into bars, I would ask my of-age friends to get me alcohol, and always find a way to imbibe on store-bought booze, years before I was actually of age. Minors will do the same with legal cannabis if we don’t sufficiently educate them on cannabis use and its place in our societies and health care.
While I do know that there are no real correlations between cannabis legalization and increase in teen use, I do fear that cannabis legalization has gotten ahead of our ability to sufficiently educate minors on cannabis, beyond the “just say no” approaches.
There’s fear-mongering campaigns such as the LegalNotSafe.ca campaign in New Brunswick that swings the anti-cannabis pendulum a little too far in my opinion, and then there’s more realistic ways to talk about cannabis use without demonizing it. I know that many pro-cannabis people in Canada are still not too sure how to broach the topic of cannabis use with their teens, and we need a more focused, realistic, and balanced approach for talking about teens about cannabis use and how it can impact their development in the age of legalization and normalization.
Black Market Friendship Loyalty
While in Canada as a recreational user, I’ve been visiting the same cannabis provider for most of my adult life, and have developed a wonderful long-term friendship with this person as a result. This person is not only who I’ve gotten cannabis from, but someone I’ve grown to love and want to support with cannabis being part of her income.
When cannabis becomes legal in Canada, will I just ignore my loyalty to my “pot dealer”? I am yet to decide myself, although professional and ethically my loyalty stands in legal cannabis. Personally, I still feel that I want to support the wonderful person I’ve grabbed cannabis from for decades. I’m not alone in this and have found the same sentiments in my friends who have a regular “person” they use for cannabis.
I’m eager to see the transition from the black, to the grey, to the completely legal market, and how the possible move to legal cannabis can affect the livelihoods of the thousands upon thousands who have been involved in cannabis long before legalization was even a thing. So far, the threats of high taxation and the connection to the alcohol industry doesn’t make my own province’s approach too enticing.
How Can Canada be Totally Ready?
While I am positive about Canada’s future in legal cannabis, and there’s no denying that it’s going to explode with growth come full legalization in August, I think we have some work to do over the next few months.
How can we all prepare ourselves for cannabis legalization in Canada? Here’s a few tips:
- Understand the ins and outs of legal cannabis: read about taxation, the individual provincial approaches to legal cannabis; who is involved (and profiting) from legal cannabis, and educate yourself on cannabis news in Canada as it emerges. It’s a historical moment we are living through!
- Explore medical cannabis in Canada as it currently exists. Find some of the existing resources on how to get medical cannabis in Canada, and talk to your primary care physician about cannabis use and how it can impact your health;
- Talk about cannabis within your social circles, and see how the legalization of cannabis validates people’s use; be understanding of people’s disclosures of cannabis use as it becomes more normalized;
- Educate, educate, educate! The Canadian cannabis lifestyle market is coming out strong with some really interesting resources like Modern Leaf, Strainprint, Flower and Freedom, my website CannaWrite, and other informative publications coming out with cannabis education for Canadians. These sites are integral in building a realistic and accurate understanding about cannabis, with balanced information;
- Thoughtfully consider your participation in the markets. Simply put, the existence of the legal cannabis market won’t stomp out the existing grey markets or the black market, but it will force people to make decisions about sourcing and if they want to participate in what can come from cannabis taxation. Consider the pros and cons of market participation, and make the decision that’s best for you, and doesn’t put you at legal risk for enjoying cannabis;
- If you are informed and passionate about cannabis education and want to help with the spread of accurate information about cannabis, work with your local MPs, MPPs and municipal representative to spread a greater understanding of cannabis. Let’s educate the likes of the Gladus and the Charlebois’ and replace their cluelessness with the truth that will support, not demonize, the emergence of legal cannabis. Demand that your local representatives see the different sides of cannabis than the fear-mongered attitudes they’ve been shaped by.
Cannabis is here to stay in North America, with all of Canada about to light up legally, joining the 29 states with medical cannabis and 9 allowing recreational use in the United States. It’s a big deal, and now is the time to embrace the development of cannabis education and cannabis lifestyle as cannabis becomes solidified as part of what it means to be Canadian.