Cannabis na­tion

Af­ter al­most a cen­tury of pro­hi­bi­tion, recre­ational use of mar­i­juana will be le­gal­ized on Oct. 17

Waterloo Region Record - - Front Page - GREG MER­CER Water­loo Re­gion Record

WATER­LOO RE­GION — For 95 years, Cana­di­ans have lived in a coun­try where cannabis was a con­trolled drug that could get them ar­rested, crim­i­nally charged and thrown in jail. That all changes next week.

On Oct. 17, le­gal­iza­tion of recre­ational use will usher in one of the big­gest pol­icy shifts this coun­try has ever seen. The im­pli­ca­tions for ev­ery­thing from polic­ing to pub­lic health to the econ­omy will be sig­nif­i­cant.

A lot has changed over the decades around pub­lic per­cep­tion of cannabis — which the Record called a “nar­cotic weed, which gen­er­ates a mur­der com­plex in many of its ad­dicts” in 1938.

It wasn’t alone in its hys­te­ria. Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, many Cana­di­ans be­lieved mar­i­juana could cause crim­i­nal be­hav­iour and vi­o­lent out­bursts. The Record trum­peted a “war on mar­i­juana,” even send­ing a re­porter out with a po­lice of­fi­cer to help pluck patches of cannabis sup­pos­edly grow­ing wild in down­town Kitch­ener.

To­day, close to 70 per cent of Cana­di­ans favour le­gal­iz­ing recre­ational cannabis. The con­ver­sa­tion has shifted from pro­hi­bi­tion to pro­mot­ing re­spon­si­ble use and pub­lic safety.

But on the eve of le­gal­iza­tion, some of the big­gest ques­tions par­ents and pub­lic health re­searchers have are around the im­pact on youth un­der 19, who won’t be able to legally buy mar­i­juana.

A land­mark study of more than 65,000 Cana­dian high school stu­dents by Uni­ver­sity of Water­loo re­searchers sug­gests more teens are likely to try cannabis af­ter it be­comes le­gal.

“Once some­thing like this be­comes le­gal, it be­comes more so­cially ac­cept­able, and you’re go­ing to see an in­crease in use,” said Scott Leatherdale, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor in the School of Pub­lic Health and Health Sys­tems who has been track­ing cannabis use among youth since 2012.

With the con­nec­tion be­tween cannabis use and teenage de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and poor school per­for­mance well-es­tab­lished, pol­icy-mak­ers should be watch­ing closely to see how youth re­spond to this ma­jor so­cial shift, he said.

“Once it’s le­gal­ized, I think you’ll see a bit of a spike in use. But af­ter the nov­elty wears off, we’re ex­pect­ing it will plateau a bit,” Leatherdale said.

It’s an im­por­tant is­sue lo­cally, as youth in Water­loo Re­gion high schools use cannabis more reg­u­larly (30 per cent) than their On­tario coun­ter­parts (25 per cent), ac­cord­ing to a new re­port by the Cannabis Work­ing Group of the Water­loo Re­gion Crime Preven­tion Coun­cil. The coun­cil ar­gues more money needs to be spent get­ting to the root causes of youth sub­stance abuse, be­yond sim­ply fund­ing more ed­u­ca­tion cam­paigns.

Ac­cess will not be an is­sue. About 60 per cent of teenagers in the Uni­ver­sity of Water­loo study al­ready re­port that they could eas­ily buy mar­i­juana if they wanted to.

Le­gal­iza­tion is only ex­pected to make it even eas­ier to get cannabis, Leatherdale said.

Canada will be­come just the sec­ond coun­try in the world to le­gal­ize and reg­u­late cannabis for adult recre­ational use, af­ter Uruguay.

“This is an ex­per­i­ment that many other coun­tries will be watch­ing,” said David Ham­mond, a Water­loo pro­fes­sor who’s the Cana­dian In­sti­tutes of Health Re­search and the Pub­lic Health Agency of Canada Chair in Ap­plied Pub­lic Health.

Cana­di­ans will need to get ed­u­cated on how to use cannabis re­spon­si­bly — un­der­stand­ing things like THC con­tent and dos­ing, and how the vast ar­ray of mar­i­juana prod­ucts af­fect peo­ple dif­fer­ently, he said. Peo­ple who might re­mem­ber mar­i­juana from their col­lege days could be sur­prised by what’s on the mar­ket now.

“This is not your dad’s or your grandpa’s cannabis. The av­er­age po­tency has gone up about three times in the last 20 years,” Ham­mond said.

“The av­er­age con­sumer has no idea if 100 mil­ligrams of THC is a tiny amount or a huge amount.”

He doesn’t ex­pect the black mar­ket to van­ish overnight, ei­ther — it’s far too es­tab­lished for that.

But in some U.S. states where le­gal­iza­tion has been in­tro­duced, the il­le­gal cannabis trade has shrunk to as lit­tle as 20 or 10 per cent of the mar­ket, he said.

A big fac­tor will de­pend on how suc­cess­ful po­lice are in crack­ing down on il­le­gal dis­pen­saries and on­line de­liv­ery ser­vices, Ham­mond said.

Water­loo Re­gional Po­lice have been ac­tively clos­ing down those black mar­ket pot shops in re­cent months, and they say en­forc­ing leg­is­la­tion sur­round­ing the “safe sup­ply of recre­ational cannabis” will re­main a pri­or­ity.

Po­lice ex­pect it will take some time for the pub­lic to ad­just to the new world of le­gal­ized mar­i­juana, par­tic­u­larly around lim­its on per­sonal pos­ses­sion and pub­lic con­sump­tion.

“There will un­doubt­edly be an ad­just­ment pe­riod as clar­ity sur­round­ing le­gal and ap­pro­pri­ate bound­aries are bet­ter un­der­stood by all,” said Insp. Mark Crow­ell of the Water­loo Re­gional Po­lice.

“The high­est pri­or­i­ties will re­main en­sur­ing road safety and also en­force­ment sur­round­ing the safe sup­ply of le­gal recre­ational cannabis. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, we will strive to en­sure that cannabis re­mains out of the hands of chil­dren and youth.”

Water­loo Re­gional Po­lice says it’s in­creas­ing the num­ber of drug en­force­ment of­fi­cers and RIDE pro­grams while train­ing more po­lice to be­come “drug recog­ni­tion ex­perts” for road­side tests. It has 14 of those al­ready on staff and plans to add more by the end of the year.

An­other 304 front-line of­fi­cers are trained in stan­dard­ized field so­bri­ety tests and able to rec­og­nize im­pair­ment by al­co­hol and drug use, Crow­ell said.

En­forc­ing road safety af­ter Oct. 17 will be crit­i­cal since im­paired driv­ing re­mains a lead­ing crim­i­nal cause of death in Canada, Crow­ell said.

Canada’s li­censed mar­i­juana pro­duc­ers, mean­while, have been busy ramp­ing up pro­duc­tion ahead of le­gal­iza­tion. They’re not just try­ing to sup­ply the do­mes­tic recre­ational mar­ket, but they also are try­ing to serve in­ter­na­tional buy­ers.

Kitch­ener-based pro­ducer James E. Wagner Cul­ti­va­tion is part­ner­ing with an­other com­pany to launch a chain of re­tail pot shops across the province.

“We’re al­ready hard at work,” said CEO Nathan Wood­worth. “We’re try­ing to get this done as quickly as pos­si­ble. But the leg­is­la­tion that’s com­ing out does not mean we have a clear un­der­stand­ing yet of what this is go­ing to look like.”

While they wait for clar­ity on the rules, some pro­duc­ers are stock­pil­ing cannabis, to the frus­tra­tion of medic­i­nal users who com­plain about short­ages in on­line stores.

Other le­gal pro­duc­ers are scram­bling to get their pro­duc­tion up to full speed while eye­ing rapid ex­pan­sion plans, lur­ing in­vest­ment cap­i­tal and go­ing on hir­ing binges.

“Ev­ery­body is short on prod­uct ... It’s not just meet­ing the needs do­mes­ti­cally. We’re also get­ting ap­proached by in­ter­na­tional buy­ers,” said Buck Young, co­founder of Can­nTX, a Puslinch-based li­censed pro­ducer.

“It’s not as easy as just ‘buy a green­house and start plant­ing cannabis in­stead of green peppers.’ The whole reg­u­la­tory process means that sig­nif­i­cant mod­i­fi­ca­tions need to be made to any build­ing ... This has been a long jour­ney.”

MATHEW MCCARTHY WATER­LOO RE­GION RECORD

Kevin Neil trims cannabis plants as they grow un­der lights at James E. Wagner Cul­ti­va­tion in Kitch­ener.

MATHEW MCCARTHY WATER­LOO RE­GION RECORD

Court­ney Ro­chon, left, and An­thony Bauer com­pare cannabis leaves from plants that were grown us­ing a dif­fer­ent meth­ods at James E. Wagner Cul­ti­va­tion in Kitch­ener on Thurs­day.

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