EDITORIAL: Silence speaks volumes in marijuana issues

By Chris Marchand

There’s a very interesting inconsistency, I think, in Canadian society’s perception of who uses marijuana and who does not.

Are they all just 20-something males at music festivals, easily spotted by their baja hoodies, pants made from stuffed animals or motorcycle gang regalia? 

Or might there be a more complex picture hidden behind a veil of stigma, a century of ‘Reefer Madness’ propaganda and the DARE program that have tried their best to shift public perception towards the belief that marijuana is not something in which respectable, productive members of society take part.

That belief however, might belong to fewer and fewer people these days. In fact a recent Globe and Mail/Nanos Research Poll found support for marijuana legalization as high as 68 per cent in some places in Canada. StatsCan says the country’s marijuana industry was worth $5.7 billion in 2017. It is estimated that one in five Canadians have used the drug in the past year and as many as 30 per cent would be willing to give it a go when it’s legal.

So, either there’s a lot more of the stereotypical ‘hippie burnouts’ among us than seems possible, or that most people who have a relationship with this drug in the background of their busy lives aren’t about to outwardly claim it as some defining part of their identity, any more than they’d want their use of alcohol to colour the community’s perception of them. It’s just not the hill anyone is choosing to die on.

If the DARE program got anything right, it’s that peer pressure is a powerful motivator.

The under-representation of the average marijuana user leads to interesting conversations like the one at the recent Kenora District Municipal Association (KDMA) meeting in Ear Falls, where you could detect the ill-informed hysteria of yesteryear creeping into the discussion. Municipalities still face some valid concerns around legalization, things like impaired driving standards and testing, police training and ensuring youth access to the drug is curtailed.

Indeed there are forces out there, like the organization Too Far, Too Fast Canada, that are warning municipalities that come July 2018, Canadian society could lapse into some manner of depraved free-for-all. ‘Will somebody please think of the children!’ they cry.

What seems to be missing from the fear-mongering arguments is an acknowledgement that these problematic elements of marijuana exist just as much here in the present as they will in July.

But as of July, Canada will have controls and tools to tackle issues that we had previously walled off into a world of criminality where the justice system has proven itself to be too reactive and blunt a tool to make much headway.

And there’s another side to this — a sort of philosophical terror that I think some folks struggle with around the moral justifications of our laws and this unsettling paradox of being a criminal on June 30 and a law-abiding citizen on July 1.

If this is okay now, was it not always okay? 

The answer is, ‘try not to think about it’.

Laws need strong reasons, based in public protection, to exist lest they be openly disregarded by the public. The fact that millions of Canadians are actively flouting the law right now without losing their jobs, missing their mortgage payments or neglecting their kids should speak volumes about discretion, responsible use and moderation.

But you’re not going to hear from those people. You probably won’t even hear from them in July or thereafter. But if you think they don’t exist, you’re fooling yourself.

About chrismarchand

Chris Marchand is a native of Dryden, Ontario. He served his first newspaper internship at The Dryden Observer in 1998 while attending journalism studies at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops B.C. He's worked desks as both reporter and editor at the Fernie Free Press as well as filled the role of sports editor at the Cranbrook Daily Townsman. Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

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