August 10, 2020

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Legal pot: we'll learn to roll with it

Everything, nothing has changed

Caitlin Turner, a mother of two and a recreational cannabis user, in Winnipeg on Wednesday.


Caitlin Turner, a mother of two and a recreational cannabis user, in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/10/2018 (662 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Caitlin Turner sat in her living room and thought about what it means to wake up to history. The light of a new day streamed through her window. A short drive away, lineups to buy legal pot stretched for blocks.

That fact was a little surreal, she thought. At the same time, preparing to visit a retail cannabis store for the first time didn’t feel like a huge deal.

"It’s like Black Friday," she said, brightly. "Everybody’s showing up, and we don’t know what we’ll see."

Turner is 35, and a mother of two bright daughters. She works in research, has an energetic cocker spaniel and lives in a sunny West Broadway apartment. Every now and then, she enjoys a drink with her friends.

In that way, Turner is one of the faces of cannabis use in Canada. Hers is not the one most associated with consumption. When cartoonists draw caricatures of legal users, it is not people who look like her that they capture.

She was not a cannabis user, for most of her youth. But in her late 20s, as the pressures of work and parenthood added up, she discovered that pot helped smooth out the end of her days. A little bit, for her, went a very long way.

"I’m a pretty low-key user," she said. "When you’re very busy, and you’re working on your education and your family and career, it’s nice just to be able to unwind at the end of the day... It helps to relax and diminish everyday anxieties."

It "remains to be seen" how it will change her experience, she said. She’s curious to see what business models emerge, what new products fill the expanded legal space. But overall, she doesn’t think much will really change.

"It’s not a huge difference," Turner said. "I don’t think it’s going to be this amazing shift. I think it’s starting out as a little bit of a novelty. At the end of the day, I think people are pretty much content with the way they have things already."

As it turns out: she may be right, in many ways.

Canada made history Wednesday, but it was also just another October day. The country shifted, but in the end, looked little different; everything and nothing changed.

Across Winnipeg, interest in buying retail pot on Day 1 exploded. Stores rushed to get licences ready and products stocked and be ready to open; at Tweed, in Osborne Village, staff said they were receiving stock throughout the night.

The lineups, stretching by dozens or hundreds, were — by a count of 25 to 1 outside Tweed in the morning — mostly men. Men with skateboards, men in black suits, men with white beards, and men with the fading acne of youth.

Turner stands in line at Delta 9 in Winnipeg on Wednesday.


Turner stands in line at Delta 9 in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

It was a notable demographic imbalance, observed at other stores across Canada. Usage itself is not so lopsided; Statistics Canada found 19 per cent of men and 12 per cent of women used pot in the second quarter of 2018.

Still, the visible disparity in early Day 1 crowds was striking, and brought to mind a study commissioned by Seattle cannabis brand Van der Pop, which found two-thirds of women felt they had to hide their consumption.

Turner understands that pressure, especially for mothers. Maybe that’s part of what kept some women home on Day 1: maybe they are more wary of the stigma, and what it would mean to be seen as a cannabis user.

Even on the night before cannabis became legal, Turner wondered about whether to be open about the topic.

"As a mom, you can never win," she said. "No matter what you do, there’s always going to be somebody passing judgment on what you’re doing, where you’re working, where you live, how clean your house is, or your kids are.

"At the end of the day, it’s about what works for you. I don’t see any specific difference between having a glass of wine or smoking a bowl. You have wine moms who embrace that lifestyle; I don’t see why this can’t be the same."

In time, perhaps that, too, will change. The dawn of legalization brings with it new movements towards cannabis education; brands are eager to attract women. As women like Turner begin being open, the stigma will fall away. Or maybe, the more things around cannabis change, the more they will stay the same.

For instance, enforcement of minor use in Canada had been lax for some time. But in many provinces, legalization has spurred renewed efforts at cracking down on public consumption; Manitoba has banned smoking in public spaces.

It was barely enforced before legalization, as anyone who’d ever taken a sniff outside a Winnipeg Jets game could tell you. Cannabis has long breezed over parks and streets; now there are new fines, almost a new enforcement regime. "It almost seems as though there are less things you can do now," Turner said.

The effect, perhaps, will be to balance out legalization. Other than the freshly bloomed retail stores, maybe those restrictions will conspire to keep cannabis at least nominally hidden. Or maybe, those rules fall away one day.

In a way, perhaps nothing has changed: daily life will roll on, more or less the same. Groceries will be stocked and recycling will get picked up and property taxes will be paid. The world didn’t go up in a puff of smoke.

In Vancouver, a group of people held a lonely anti-cannabis protest. For the most part, opponents of legalization seemed to shrug and go about their day. In time, and likely not even long, all of this will be normal.

This was Day 1 of legalization in Canada. The nation is different, yet still the same. If nothing else, that is something: there was no terrible shift, the sky didn’t fall, everything is fine.

What comes next, is ours to decide.

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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