Legalized pot more of a future problem

Murray Mandryk

So marijuana became legal in Canada last week.

It likely hasn’t changed your life much.

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Most people (an estimated 85 per cent) have either never smoked pot or smoked only on an experimental basis.

So, most of you are unlikely to be impacted by federal and provincial laws and rules governing marijuana as a legal substance.

Strict laws and rules may be disincentive enough to keep non-users from becoming users.

As is the case with alcohol, you have to be 19 years old. While debate during the Saskatchewan Party leadership race did discuss increasing the legal age to 25 years, it was decided it should be the same as the current legal drinking age in this province.

The question is, will those 18 years and under be more enticed to use marijuana in the future because of last week’s legalization? (More on that in a moment.)

First, though, consider the disincentives there are for non-user to ever become users.

There are a few stores open in Saskatchewan and there will be only 51 stores when all are operational. That may seem a lot, but it pales in comparison with the province's 700 retail outlets, all the bars, restaurants, hotels and clubs licensed to sell booze and add in the charity and special occasion permits.

If you want booze, it’s really just around the corner. That won’t be the case for pot.

Once you purchase marijuana (no more than 30 grams at a time or you face a $200 fine) you must take its straight home. Neither you nor any passengers can smoke it in a vehicle.

You can smoke in your home, but only if it’s your home. If it’s a condo, apartment building or a rental property, it’s up to a board, management or property owner.

In Saskatchewan, smoking in outdoor community parks, sidewalks, playgrounds, daycares, theatres (indoor or outdoor) are all out.

Of course, there is the great outdoors, although that is limited as well. While smoking marijuana will be allowed in campers, tents or around the campfire (confined to your campsite), it won’t be allowed elsewhere in provincial and federal parks. Interestingly, such provincial parks are often subject to seasonal fire bans.

But while all of the above might be more of a deterrent to non-users, will it really be a deterrent to already heavy-to-moderate users?

There are an estimated 4.6 million such users in Canada and their habits are likely to be encouraged by the fact they no longer face the prospects of a criminal record.

But here’s another way to look at it. If such users are already willing to risk fines and criminal records, what really changed last week for them?

Well, one thing that’s changed is the risk of prosecution, which has been changing for a considerable time, anyway.

According to government statistics, marijuana-related crimes have been on a five-year decline, falling 11 per cent in Canada and 17 per cent in Saskatchewan in 2016.

Unfortunately that’s not the end of this story. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police fears an increased in cannabis-impaired drivers (although they acknowledge alcohol impairment will be a far bigger worry).

And then there is the issue of the next generation growing up with marijuana now legal and more socially acceptable.

Yes, it remains illegal for those under 19 years to smoke marijuana, but how effectively does a legal drinking age work when it comes to stopping under-age drinkers?

There are ample studies suggesting marijuana use does affect developing younger brains, so what impact legalized pot use may have on the younger generation is a legitimate issue.

Maybe it’s less about what’s happening now than how last week’s legalization might impact people down the road.

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