Harmless plant, better than the alternative, threat to children, cash crop…. With so many viewpoints, which should dominate the discussion of cannabis in Canada? What is the reason to grow — and legalize — marijuana in our country? What’s the point of legal pot? 

When the Toronto Police Services (TPS) pulled off Project Gator, they were making a statement. I objected to the restriction of the nascent free market already established. The one that could guide the government through recreational legalization. But a reader reminded me that the government never promised a free market. They won based on a promise of regulation and restriction. To remove profits from organized crime and keep marijuana out of the hands of children. 

What is the Point of Legal Pot?

Whether this approach is the correct one, and how strongly legislation should regulate and restrict, depends on your view of marijuana, its effects, and its impacts.

(Mostly) Harmless Plant

Pot relaxes bodies, calms minds, soothes pains, and makes us feel good. These are all positive reasons to argue for legalization. And if it only had beneficial effects, decriminalizing and making marijuana completely free would be the only truly just action.

But with scientifically proven medical uses “harmless” is no longer accurate. Like all chemical compounds that can assist human bodies, cannabinoids may also be harmful in certain ways to certain degrees.

In terms of recreational use though, marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco. There is no excuse for the government to regulate or restrict pot more so than they do booze or smokes.

Make marijuana as available to buy as other legal recreational substances — in stores and in public consumption areas (vape lounges, like bars). And it should be as allowed to produce on our own as alcohol or tobacco.

Marijuana cannot be more difficult to access than already available alcohol and tobacco. That’s not the point of legal pot.

The Better Alternative

Legal recreational marijuana needs to be as easy or easier to acquire than street drugs. To encourage a choice, make it the best available option. 

The ideas behind prohibition and “the war on drugs” have been disproved. Drugs have been around and will be around, regardless of whether they’re “hard” or “soft”. So we must acknowledge harm reduction as a strategy. 

Canada — and especially BC — has lost too many and keeps losing citizens to opioids like Fentanyl. Adults should be able to put into their bodies anything they choose even with death as a possible consequence, but society has reason to suggest better alternatives.

Marijuana is not a cure-all for opioid addiction. But if it’s safer and easier to buy marijuana than heroin, people who want similar effects and don’t want to use opioids are more likely to choose weed. And that means not putting up barriers to access.

Legal cannabis must be better in cost, quality, availability and choice than during this prohibition or people will choose illegal sources and drugs. That’s not the point of legal pot.

Protecting Children

No one wants to encourage adolescent marijuana use. But standardized laws must acknowledge that marijuana isn’t worse than other substances that adolescents get their hands on.

It’s not as harmful as hard drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. So in the effort to restrict juvenile access to marijuana it’s important not to spin its danger to justify restrictions and create an illicit attraction. Especially if adult access is unnecessarily restricted to make marijuana appear more dangerous.

Teenagers test limits, push against restrictions, and reach for what is being held from them. That’s the point of growing up. And we know how young people react to unproven, overblown drug fears, we were young once too. They scoff and do what they want — including smoking pot.

What does reduce teenage interest is when something is seen as being a “boring adult” thing instead of fun that adults keep to themselves. Demystifying marijuana through normal, common public access combined with evidence-based education doesn’t increase use, as already shown

In order to “protect children from themselves” adult access shouldn’t be limited. And discussion cannot be so restricted that marijuana becomes more available but also more enticing for adolescents. That’s not the point of legal pot.

Cash Crop

A significant amount of media coverage on the subject of Canada’s upcoming legalization has been regarding the potential profits and tax revenue.

Investment companies have been speculating, Licensed Producers have been increasing infrastructure, and governments have been watching. But an oligarchy of licensed producers will not create a viable legal market. A drive for profits and tax revenue without competition will not keep legal marijuana prices lower than illegal drugs.

The claim that organized crime controls the current marijuana market justifies continued raids and arrests. The stated goal to remove profits from gangs. But busting dispensaries doesn’t hurt organized crime, it hurts the budtenders arrested, the activists that invest in storefront and product, and customers.

And it hurts the possibility of letting these people into the legal marijuana distribution scheme because of criminal convictions for marijuana. Convictions of people who started the conversation on legal marijuana. People who understand it better than the investors, tax collectors, and regulators do.

Without a marijuana equivalent of craft breweries — that encourage experimenting and improving on cultivation and imbue markets with creativity — legal product will fall in comparative quality.

By concentrating on financial possibilities for corporations and the already-rich, and painting passion and knowledge as dangerous and unwanted, supply suffers and demand for legal marijuana drops.

In which case the legal market fails and a black market rises.

That is not the point of legal pot.

Feature Image: Brent Ray Fraser at the 2017 M.O.M. Cup by EDI - Easterbrook Digital Imaging for Twelve High Chicks.