It’s official. Canada has made history with the Cannabis Act. According to the government website (canada.ca), “the Act aims to accomplish three goals:
- keep cannabis out of the hands of youth
- keep profits out of the pockets of criminals
- protect public health and safety by allowing adults access to legal cannabis”
Canada is one of the first countries that has ended cannabis-related arrests (within its parameters), but there are sure to be many anxieties and stigmas still attached to the newly-legal drug.
The Danforth area is a very family-oriented neighbourhood that focuses on health, community, and happiness, especially within The Big Carrot Danforth Community. After taking to the streets, I found that not many people wanted to discuss the new law that legalized cannabis. A stigma still surrounds the drug despite Canada’s efforts to distance it from other harmful drugs. Out of the six people I questioned about their thoughts on the matter, all of them said nothing has seemingly changed in the community since October 17th. Only two of the six admitted to smoking cannabis.
Lily Rogers is a local Danforth worker who lives in East York. The changes that she has noted have taken place mostly outside of the Danforth area, where cannabis shops are popping up around Toronto and rumours are spreading about being able to pick up cannabis at local pharmacies that act as dispensaries. She believes, “that transition will come through [in the Danforth area] once people start to realize that it’s not drug dealers … [and] that people use it for medicine or other purposes.”
Jane Forth is a student who lives in the area with her boyfriend. She shared the same views as Rogers––that nothing has really changed within the Danforth area. She explained that there is a stigma around smoking weed, even with the legalization. “A quick glance at the website has you thinking that all it sells are hazardous, toxic products.” She questions, “if the government doesn’t seem too invested with showcasing the benefits of cannabis, then how is the rest of Canada supposed to get behind it as well?” The reason behind the packaging, as mentioned in the Cannabis Act, are to deter youth from desiring the substance. Canada wants to offer access to responsible adults and keep it out of criminals’ hands in order to benefit public health, but how can they do that if they continue to spread contradictory messages through their packaging?
The reality is that there have not been any drastic changes to the Danforth community in regard to the legalization. Not surprising since according to a survey by Huffington Post before the legalization, out of 5,000 Canadians a total of 82% claimed that they were, “unlikely to try cannabis or increase their consumption with legalization.” Of course, this study does not address the stigma surrounding the drug, but one could easily compare it to another legal drug: tobacco.
Rogers brought up a point in our interview about the stigma surrounding cigarette smoking over cannabis. Rogers feels “that people actually shun smoking tobacco more than cannabis right now—if anything I get dirtier looks for standing outside on the curb smoking a cigarette than I do walking by smoking a joint.” Is it just the idea of “smoking” that causes the stigma? Probably not. When something is originally associated with a bad connotation it can be difficult to turn it around and convince others that it has more benefits than negatives. The history of tobacco shows the opposite progress––from initially being known as a socially-accepted and popular past-time to being known as a serious health hazard. The government has also promised to raise awareness about health and safety risks of cannabis, but as of yet, has done nothing to educate Canadians on how beneficial it can be for your health under certain circumstances. This may change but right now, especially in close-knit communities like the Danforth area, there is, as Rogers explains, “a lot of concern and a lot of questions, but that’s like with anything new––you’re always going to have a skeptic no matter what.”
Real names have been changed for anonymity purposes.
Image from Wikimedia Commons—no copyright infringement intended