Marijuana Legalization

Report written by Sammy Roach

On April 27, 2017, the LYAC held a discussion on marijuana legalization, mediated by Council Director Kayley MacGregor. Marijuana legalization is a particularly hot-button topic in Canada currently, as the federal government is planning to have legislation for marijuana legalization in place by July 1, 2018. The group discussed their thoughts on the legislation and the different arguments for and against marijuana legalization. Former LYAC Councilor Scott Wilkinson joined this discussion.

Who Should Read This?

  • Anyone interested in the debate on marijuana legalization.
  • Any users of marijuana, medical or recreational, who may be affected by the legislation.

Raghad shared her fascination with the subject, having had several conversations with people who have smoked marijuana, both good and bad experiences. She was curious to see if anyone in the group would be willing to share any firsthand experience they may have had with marijuana.

A lengthy silence followed before Meegan explained that she’s had secondhand exposure that was out of her control, but she also knows people who have used marijuana and they seem to be fine. Raghad noted that encountering secondhand exposure at school can change how you feel about marijuana. She asked her fellow councillors: Is marijuana good or bad? Another silence followed, simply because there isn’t really a straightforward answer to whether marijuana is good or bad, as the group would find through the course of the discussion.

Meegan picked up the conversation by noting that any secondhand exposure she has had did not result in an effect other than experiencing the smell. She noted that only friends who had used marijuana to an excess felt a significant effect from it. Kayley and Maia added that effects depend on the person and the method of consumption. Kayley added that she has friends with medical licenses for marijuana to help with anxiety as an alternative to other medication.

Medical marijuana certainly hasn’t been without controversy. Meegan shared that she had found a post on CBC about someone who was put on leave for having medical marijuana. She recalled there was a rant in the comments condemning that person, saying that it didn’t matter the person in the story was dealing with pain. Meegan noted insensitivity around the subject of medical marijuana.

Kayley asked the group: beyond medical reasons, why else do people use marijuana?

  • Smoking marijuana can be part of being with the in crowd
  • The thrill of illegality
  • Relief from stress related to school, work, family problems
  • People who don’t like to drink so they smoke instead
  • Social pressure

Kayley asked the group if these are good reasons to smoke. Raghad said they are understandable reasons to smoke, and Melissa questioned whether they needed to be “good” reasons.

One Issue, Many Perspectives

After discussing the reasons why people smoke or otherwise partake in marijuana, the group moved on to debate the various reasons for and against legalizing marijuana, and on marijuana in general. The health question was the first to come up.

  • Speaking from real-world encounters, Raghad explained that she knows a lot of young people who smoke marijuana, and she found that they seem to be constantly tired out of it, and coughing.
  • Meegan brought up the argument from several different anti-drug programs that marijuana is a gateway drug, that once someone uses marijuana they will fall into using harder drugs such as meth or cocaine. Raghad and Maia noted that they had heard these arguments in their schools and from their own teachers.
  • Kayley noted that people can be too lax with marijuana. She has friends that have said you can’t overdose so it’s fine, but just because you can’t overdose to the point of death doesn’t mean it’s just okay to have. She noted that the younger is user is, the greater the damage can be, depending on how often the drug is used.
  • Brandon suggested that if there’s definitive proof that it will cause health issues then the government should offset healthcare costs by taxing it.
  • On the mental health side, although medical marijuana does get used to help treat anxiety, Melissa also noted concerns in reports investigating increased weed use with links to increased mental illness, but she added that the reports are still not sure if it is causation or exacerbation.

Maia brought up the sort of “gateway legislation” perspective that legalizing marijuana is door opening to other drugs being legalized. She herself didn’t see that happening but she understood the concern.

  • Melissa said that when it comes to the slippery slope idea of marijuana legalization leading to other legalizations, she just can’t picture a cocaine lobby.
  • Meegan wondered if the Marijuana Party will dismantle when the legalization has gone through, though she noted that they have stated they are not a single issue party.

Melissa brought up one of the main arguments for legalization of marijuana: regulation.

  • Meegan noted the current risk without regulation that if someone buys weed from a dealer, the dealer may have cut the weed with something else in order to increase profits.
  • Meegan added that under legalization the government could also tax marijuana, and with a shift from dealers to stores and companies, the government could watch and inspect stores to ensure they are meeting safety standards.
  • Kayley asked if legalizing marijuana will keep it away from minors. Brandon noted that this doesn’t work with alcohol as there is still underage drinking. Meegan added the fact that many minors smoke despite being unable to buy cigarettes themselves.

On that topic of the other regulated substances, Raghad noted that she has often heard the common comparison of marijuana with alcohol and cigarettes, which cause far more deaths than marijuana.

  • Meegan added that there are lots of legal drugs that can be fatal.
  • Meegan also had read a letter to the London Free Press that shared the concern that marijuana will make driving dangerous and argued that marijuana shouldn’t be used to medicate when there are other medications out there. Meegan pointed out that people are already driving high, and drunk driving still exists as well.

Finally, Melissa asked the group about the argument that government should control what people put in their bodies. Should the government have a say on whether people use cannabis?

Having discussed and contemplated various perspectives on marijuana legalization, Kayley asked the councillors how they felt about the issue. Of the four councillors in attendance, Maia, Meegan, and Brandon were pro-legalization. Raghad was undecided. She explained that she understood both sides, and thought from a health perspective it should be legalized but she also aligned with the anti-legalization perspective as far as the government having too much control.

What Should Legalization Look Like?

The meeting also included discussion around what the potential legislation recommends. Kayley explained that sellers would need a permit to have marijuana plants. Sellers could allowed to have up to 4 plants shorter than 100 cm and up to 30g of product at one time or face penalties for breaking the rules. On the subject of penalties, Kayley explained that in the proposed legislative framework, selling marijuana to a minor could get the seller up to 14 years in prison, compared to the penalty for selling alcohol to a minor, which is up to 6 years. Raghad asked why is the maximum so high, and Meegan argued that it’s just a big move appeasing the side against marijuana.

Kayley asked the group: what will the legislation change for current recreational users?

The group wondered if recreational users might be more upset because there are more rules. One of the councillors said that a friends of his shared that he will still buy it illegally because it will keep his dealer in business, since it would be difficult for the dealer if the government is able to sell marijuana at a lower price. This brought an interesting dimension that hadn’t come up in the legalization yet. Melissa noted that some people do get up in arms the idea of the government strictly controlling production, encouraging people to support local dealers.

Scott offered his view of what ideal marijuana legalization should look like. To break it down:

  • Marijuana should be legalized and minimally regulated
  • There should be inspections to ensure standards through bodies like the Ministry of Labour
  • It should be a profitable industry, but should sell at lower prices than the black market
  • Marijuana should not be distributed through government stores, but rather through private distribution

The group shared their thoughts on Scott’s ideas:

  • Raghad and Brandon agreed with Scott’s outline.
  • Maia agreed, but also noted the importance of similar laws to public intoxication and driving under the influence for marijuana.
  • Kayley liked Scott’s outline for the most part, but argued that distribution should perhaps be semi-private. She noted that the government-owned LCBO does educational pieces as part of their mandate, so they are not only selling, but also advocating safe consumption.
  • Meegan added that there should regulations specifically around having warnings and information on labels and packaging.

As the meeting came to a close, Kayley and Melissa encouraged the councillors to share their thoughts with their MPs to present youth voices and perspectives.

Personal Stories:

When the group was discussing other substances that are currently legal, vaping came up. Raghad shared that she had a friend who transitioned from marijuana to vaping, and wondered if it was a good transition. Kayley noted that her brother when through a similar transition from smoking cigarettes. Raghad asked why Kayley’s brother wouldn’t quit entirely, and Kayley explained that it was hard for her brother to quit completely, partly because he works in a factory where in order to take an acceptable break, it needs to be a smoke break. This speaks to an earlier point about smoking due to social pressure, in a way that has been built into the institution of employment.

Big Question

  • How much control should the government have on what we can put in our bodies?

Things We Still Need to Learn

  • What are some of the learnings we can take from the few places where recreational marijuana is currently legal?