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From reefer madness to legalization: Canada to make history on Oct. 17

On Oct.17 Canada will be the second country in the world — and first in the G7 — to legalize marijuana production, sale and consumption.
On Oct.17 Canada will be the second country in the world — and first in the G7 — to legalize marijuana production, sale and consumption. - SaltWire Network

HALIFAX, N.S. - There are a lot of places to begin the story of cannabis in Canada.

So how about with a strange, mediocre movie because that is where so many members of the largest generation of Canadians in history — the baby boomers — learned of “perp,” “keef,” “gangster,” “doobie,” as marijuana was known on a federal government website prepared in anticipation of Oct. 17, when marijuana will be legalized.

To watch Reefer Madness in 2018 is to wonder.

Why is every adult in the movie — the muttering, alarmed parents, the bug-eyed school principal, the pot-addled murderer played with scenery-chewing brio by a star of “B” western movies — so old?

How, even in the late 1930s, did they get away with the laughable stereotyping: the dealers and users are the children of divorce and live in urban tenements; the first person to light a spliff is a jittery jazz pianist with wild Chico Marx hair, whose ancestors probably did not come from the British Isles?

Most of all, how did we get from there — when a couple of tokes was thought to lead to “emotional disturbances,” “acts of shocking violence” and “incurable insanity” — to today, when it will be possible next week to buy a joint in premises as sleek and shiny as an Apple store?

The easiest thing to say is that the key moment occurred in 2012, at the national Liberal convention when Grits from across the country vowed to legalize marijuana. And when elected, Justin Trudeau kept that promise.

So, long before our MPs and senators were debating the pros and cons of being able to buy pot like a six-pack of Keiths, Canadians were growing our own.

“More than pushing the agenda forward he put his money where his mouth is,” says Jonathan Hiltz, director of development for INDIVA Ltd., a London, Ont., licensed cannabis producer, who has written a newly published book called The Wild West: Canada’s Legalization of Marijuana.

Bill C-45, which legalizes the recreational use of weed in this country, was introduced on April 2017 and passed by the House of Commons seven months later.

As Ottawa subsequently decreed, on Oct.17 Canada will be the second country in the world — and first in the G7 — to legalize marijuana production, sale and consumption. (South of the border, nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized or decriminalized recreational pot use, while 30 allow medical use.)

“There’s no template for what we are doing,” says Shawn King, the Halifax-based creative director and creator of the Turning a New Leaf podcast. “Decades from now historians will be looking at what we did and say that was history in the making.”

And history is seldom straightforward.

Before pot could be legal it had to be normal, says John Bodner, who teaches social cultural studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Grenfell campus.

That meant pot economics had to change.

Bodner took me through how, in the 1970s and 80s, new growing techniques increased yields and lowered costs and a shift occurred away from importing weed from California and Mexico to domestic production.

“There is more available, it is better and cheaper,” he says.

So, long before our MPs and senators were debating the pros and cons of being able to buy pot like a six-pack of Keiths, Canadians were growing our own.

We had activists — Marc and Jodie Emery in Ontario and Prince Edward Island’s Annie MacEachern — pushing for legalization.

And of course, Canadians were lighting up.

Who can forget when, in 1984, New Brunswick premier Richard Hatfield found himself at the centre of a scandal after marijuana was found in his luggage during a routine security check at the Fredericton airport.

Hatfield, later mixed up in allegations of cocaine and weed-fuelled partying with Fredericton youths, was travelling with Queen Elizabeth II during her royal tour at the time.

The list of Canadian politicians who have owned up to having the occasional puff is lengthy: Justin Trudeau; former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, whose drug use was said to go far deeper than a little weed; federal NDP leader Jack Layton who, when asked about whether or not he smoked pot, replied, “Yes, and some might say I never exhaled.”

Even Nova Scotia’s former premier Darrell Dexter, now a cannabis lobbyist, conceded that he smoked some at university.

It’s not just politicos who sparked one up before cannabis became legal.

Literary immortal Pierre Berton seemed to speak with some authority in 2010 when he appeared on The Rick Mercer Report and gave a tutorial about joint rolling in which he explained that he preferred the “classic cone-shaped joint, what the young people call a ‘coner.’”

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And a quick Google search will turn up plenty of video evidence that Halifax’s own Trailer Park Boys — who are planning to enter the legal ganja market in collaboration with a New Brunswick grower — have shared a few real-life blunts with the legendary, hard-smoking rapper Snoop Dogg, who appeared on their show.

All of which goes to underscore that public attitude towards marijuana has been changing throughout this country for a long time.

That’s not remotely surprising to Don Mills, the CEO of Halifax-based polling company Corporate Research Associates, who notes that in the last 20 years Canadians, already known for their tolerance, “have become very liberalized in how we think about everything.”

Put legalized marijuana squarely in that category, says the pollster, who notes that his company’s research has shown that, in just a few short years, Atlantic Canada has gone from majority opposition to legal pot to majority support.

“I anticipate that once it becomes legal, support will increase fairly rapidly,” Mills says.

We are about to find out.

John DeMont is a journalist with The Chronicle Herald in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

jdemont@herald.ca

Read the full report:  CLEARING THE AIR: Taking Atlantic Canada's pot pulse

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