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McDONALD: Hot boxing the closet: Are you willing to come out as a pot head?

June 22, 2017 - 12:00 PM

OPINION


Does she or doesn’t she, only her hairdresser knows for sure…

If you’re old enough to remember that ‘60s hair colour advertisement, you’re old enough to have grown up with marijuana, watching for the last 50 years as police and government fought on that particular front in the war on drugs.

You’ve watched as pot, grass, weed, bud, call it what you will, was demonized, lumped in with other drugs, even as most of the evidence showed it to be much more benign than other legal government-taxed substances.

You watched as politicians and cops did their best to convince Canadians that pot-growers were all gun-toting gangsters, that cannabis was a gateway drug to harder drugs.

Even if you’re too young to remember that ad, you may be one of the 20 per cent of Canadians who have recently admitted privately to using the drug... only your pot dealer knows for sure.

You may also be one of the million or so Canadians who already have a criminal conviction for simple pot possession (estimates vary). Police across the country have laid untold thousands of such charges every year since the late ‘60s.

Whether you yourself use cannabis or have ever been arrested for it, you have watched as efforts in Canada to legalize the drug have slowly come to fruition, despite concerted opposition.

But despite all signs pointing to legalization of recreational use of cannabis on July 1, 2018, many still have one question on their minds.

Is it really safe?

Is it safe to come out from behind that proverbial dumpster in the alley with that joint and publicly ask: Do you wanna toke? And, continuing with the metaphor, is it safe for me to say yes?

Who can figure out the mixed signals? Police across Canada say they have for years been pursuing a relaxed approach to simple pot possession, often confiscating the drug rather than lay charges.

Yet over 25,000 Canadians were charged in 2014 (the most recent data) with simple possession for which a conviction immediately bars a person from travel to the U.S. and complicates career choices.

You may be one of the thousands of Canadians who have for years openly used marijuana, posting pictures on social media, showing your face at public rallies like Vancouver’s monstrous 4/20.

Mostly young, with consequences an abstract concept, they are the people you see on news coverage of pot rallies, lunging down on a monster blunt or taking a hit off a six-foot long bong.

Or you may be a young professional, well aware of the career consequences of a misplaced photo on Facebook. Is it now now okay to post a selfie of you and your pot plants?

The federal Liberal government, acting on a well-received campaign promise, has marked July 1, 2018 as the day recreational use of marijuana will be legal across Canada.

Key parts of the draft legislation would allow possession of 30 grams of pot, the right to share or give that amount to another person ( as long as they are of legal age) and grow as many as four plants per household.

Emboldened by the pending legislation, I know people who have already begun growing their four plants, taking those selfies, convinced the federal government is not going to bother prosecuting them.

They are already lining up, signing up to one of the many dispensaries and compassion societies that have taken root in the grey area of the law.

Others aren’t so sure.

One retired lawyer friend says any litigator who comes out ahead of the legislation risks sanction as do most regulated professions.

If regulations do not specifically mention drug use, they cover it with a rule requiring members to refrain from behaviour that would bring the profession into disrepute.

I don’t know if a joint behind the dumpster would bring a doctor or a laywer into disrepute, but society’s conflicted attitude toward drug use would almost surely call his or her judgement into question should they go public, legal or not.

Of course, tradespeople and others subject to drug testing would be foolish to advertise their drug use in any way, shape or form, before or after July 1, 2018.

One of the stumbling blocks to legalization of cannabis has been the reluctance of users to come out and admit it. I personally know of an emergency room physician, a lawyer and a high-placed civic administrator who smoke pot on a regular basis.

One of them told me he has no intention of coming out, even after legalization. “What if the next government makes it illegal again,” he asked.

It’s a good question and one I could find no precedent for. Perhaps the best example may be the U.S where several states have legalized recreational use, even though the drug remains illegal at the federal level. Awkward to say the least.

President Donald Trump has vowed to reverse course and begin increased prosecution of cannabis users, which has to leave people who have gone public more than a little nervous. Still want that bong shot on your phone when you cross the border?

Perhaps the biggest single reason for keeping your stash stashed is the pending draft legislation is just that, pending and draft. Trudeau and his government wouldn’t be the first (nor would it be a first for this government) to renege on a campaign promise.

Government bills are modified constantly before becoming law and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the new rules get tougher before they become easier. Federal MPs are not immune to buyer’s remorse…and then there’s the Senate.

It’s obviously a political choice, but for those who’ve been behind the dumpster for decades, another year or so isn’t going to matter and would seem the safest course of action in a still-uncertain legal and social environment.

Close the closet door on your way out.

— John McDonald is a long-time reporter, editor and photographer from the Central Okanagan with a strong curiosity about local affairs. You can reach him at jmcdonald@infonews.ca

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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