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Russell Wangersky: Legal weed — expect snags

The New Brunswick provincial government it is prepared for the federal government legalizing adult-use cannabis on Oct. 17.
The federal government will legalize cannabis for adult use on Oct. 17. — stock photo

Well, we’re so close to Canada’s big weed experiment that you can almost smell it.

The truth is, you can smell it already — police departments may still be charging the occasional unlucky user, but weed’s already almost everywhere.

 

I walk to work, and there’s already plenty of public smoking on the go — construction workers on a major project starting their day with a morning “hotbox,” their truck windows grey with smoke, one or two houses where there’s regularly someone out on the deck pungently greeting the day, other walkers wreathed in what is unquestionably a cannabis cloud.

But with legal weed arriving in a mere five days, are we ready? Are governments/police departments/suppliers/growers ready for the next few weeks and months?

I don’t think so — and that’s what’s going to make the next while very interesting.

There are a growing number of questions about cannabis use that have yet to be answered. The fact is, the online aspect of legalization that seems to be proceeding on schedule is how prepared provincial and private retailers are going to be to sell from the very first day that legal weed can be on the market.

On everything else, though, the name of the game seems to be playing catch-up.

Are police going to find themselves becoming the modern cannabis equivalent of Appalachian “revenuers,” on the hunt for weed that’s illegal simply because the right taxes haven’t been paid on it?

Are producers going to run short as they ramp up production?

How are human relations and personnel departments going to deal with staff using — and even abusing — a legal product?

Will police forces be able to deal effectively with drugged drivers, with training still not complete and many police forces without roadside drug testing equipment? Heck, it’s clearly impossible for police officers to handle the growing scourge of illegal cellphone use/texting by drivers.

Are current users who purchase their weed on the black market going to find their way to legal purchases, or will it become even easier for illegal dealers to stay in business? (After all, cannabis products have been available online for years, with the ease of post office delivery and virtually no law enforcement intervention whatsoever. Keep in mind as well that governments often take fast action — at close to legislative light speed — when they feel something is threatening a tax stream.)

Will police forces be able to deal effectively with drugged drivers, with training still not complete and many police forces without roadside drug testing equipment? Heck, it’s clearly impossible for police officers to handle the growing scourge of illegal cellphone use/texting by drivers.

I think what surprises me the most about the whole process is the way it’s chugged steadily forwards despite the major and obvious hiccups and pitfalls — after all, less controversial issues have run aground on much smaller shoals.

I mean, the concept that people who buy and store deadly weapons should have to register them with the government — even though virtually no one bats an eye at the need to have licence plates on their car — was an incendiary enough issue to help topple a federal government.

The legalization of cannabis, on the other hand, generates headlines only when there are practical issues that still need to be addressed. We seem to be well past the point where overarching philosophical issues questioning legalization as a whole are even being addressed.

And that hasn’t happened with, say, gun registration; even though the long gun registry is long gone, any time any registration is raised in any form, opposition rises up almost immediately.

Is the Weed Apocalypse approaching?

No.

But as with all incomplete plans, there’s going to be a lot of change, from provincial legislation to federal legislation to municipal bylaws.

Cannabis legalization is very much a work in progress. And that work continues even after Wednesday’s big legal smoke.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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