If marijuana is legalized in this province, nearly one-quarter of Manitoba adults say they’re prepared to get some. Rich or poor, NDP or Progressive Conservative, man or woman, young or middle-aged — tens of thousands are likely to try some pot.

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This article was published 28/12/2016 (1732 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If marijuana is legalized in this province, nearly one-quarter of Manitoba adults say they’re prepared to get some. Rich or poor, NDP or Progressive Conservative, man or woman, young or middle-aged — tens of thousands are likely to try some pot.

The Winnipeg Free Press/Probe Research Inc. survey asked, "If marijuana becomes legal in Canada, how likely would you be to use it even just once?" Twenty-four per cent — nearly one-quarter of a million adult Manitobans — said they would be likely to use it.

"That’s a significant market," said Probe research associate Mary Agnes Welch. "It’s a little more than I thought."

Between one-quarter and one-fifth of respondents said they’re open to using legalized marijuana. Those most likely to use it were renters (38 per cent), men between the ages of 18 and 34 (37 per cent) and those with some post-secondary education (32 per cent). More men (28 per cent) than women (20 per cent) and more Winnipeg residents (28 per cent) than rural Manitobans (19 per cent) would use it once, and more 18- to 34-year-olds (32 per cent) than 35- to 54-year-olds (26 per cent) would use it once. Those least likely — 15 per cent — were over the age of 55.

Income-wise, there wasn’t much of a difference. Of those who make less than $30,000 a year, 25 per cent were open to using legalized marijuana, while 27 per cent of those who make more than $100,000 said they’d use it.

The same with education — 22 per cent with high school or less said they’d use it, and 22 per cent who graduated from university or college said they would use it. Among Manitoba’s three main political parties, voters who identified as Liberal were the most likely to use legalized pot (32 per cent), with NDP voters at 26 per cent and 19 per cent of Progressive Conservatives saying they’d be likely to use it at least once.

That’s a significant cross-section of Manitobans, said Welch. "I think there is a growing acceptance of this." Young men were the most open to using legalized marijuana, but so were other groups, including the middle-aged, well-off and conservative. "Even with the Tories, close to 20 per cent said they were interested. Do you think that would’ve happened 10 years ago?"

The legalization of recreational marijuana in eight U.S. states, starting with Colorado, got the ball — or in this case, the joint — rolling, she said.

"There has been so much talk about Colorado and how it could work and the types of retail outlets there might be," said Welch. "There are still many questions to ask: where would you want to buy it? How much would you buy at a time? Have you used it in the last year? If you haven’t, do you have any concerns?"

One concern, especially for middle-aged Manitobans who haven’t smoked pot in a very long time, may be reports its potency has tripled in the last 20 years. A U.S. study of 38,600 samples of seized marijuana over 20 years found the level of THC — tetrahydrocannabinol, which produces the high in marijuana — is three times as high as it was in 1995.

"Will knowing it’s regulated make you more likely and more comfortable to use it?" Welch asked. "In what context would you use it — at a party, or would it be a private thing? There’s a million questions around this still."

The research associate said she would’ve liked to have been able to ask more questions — such as how many Manitobans would be OK with trying edible marijuana versus smoking it — "the folks who’d say ‘I’ll try a pot cookie once’ or ‘I’ll replace my nightly glass of wine with a toke’?"

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plan to introduce legislation this spring to legalize cannabis is having an economic impact that’s being felt nationally.

"Already you’re seeing investments in the production side of things," said Welch. "The distribution and retail side of things is still an open question. You’re already hearing stories about people buying up stock on the growing side, with public offerings going through the roof on the production side. ... We kind of know there’s a broad market but how deep is it? Would it replace beer? Nationally, the market is about as big, money-wise, as the beer market is. Is that true in Manitoba? And is it it true in different age groups? We’re still trying to figure that out."

She wonders if legalization of marijuana will make it less attractive to some of the 13 per cent of those Manitoba adults surveyed who said they’ve used it, illegally, in the last year. "Is there something about the underground cache of it for current users that makes it attractive for them? That’s another question: will there be a ‘It’s not cool any more -- it’s been McDonald’s-ified’ reaction?"

A retired Winnipeg police detective who’s been pushing for marijuana legalization wasn’t surprised that nearly 25 per cent of Manitoba adults said they’d try pot. "A quarter is about what it’s been for some time now," said Bill VanderGraaf. "It’s done nothing but positive good in my life," he said Tuesday. "For people like me, it’s been very effective with the health issues in my life."

VanderGraaf retired in 2001 and six years later was arrested for growing marijuana in the basement of his house. Police seized 21 plants. He later got a conditional discharge, successfully arguing in court he was growing the plant for his own use and to help his ailing father, who in his final year suffered from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. His son gave him marijuana cookies to ease his pain. VanderGraaf said marijuana edibles have helped cancer patients with their chemotherapy treatments. "It helps a lot of people with illnesses," he said. "I feel a lot better since I’ve been smoking it instead of (taking) prescription drugs."

He sees marijuana in many ways as better than alcohol. "I think people need a choice," he said. "We’re saturated in alcohol in this country. People have been looking for a legal alternative to alcohol," VanderGraaf said. "It’s such a big problem in our society," he said. "It would be better if people stayed away from drugs and alcohol but people won’t," he said.

"Everything in moderation is what I say."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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