A new law came into effect in Canada on October 17 that legalizes the recreational use of marijuana. The legislation was met with praise by some and criticism by others. But what do Italian Canadians think of this new state of affairs? We put the question to a random group of people. Based on our sample’s response, the only thing that is clear is that the views are very nuanced, even ambiguous.
Of the ten people interviewed, seven equated marijuana with alcohol, hoping that legalization, and therefore regulation, will help keep marijuana out of the hands of teenagers. Another positive was the hope that money would no longer go to drug dealers and criminals, but rather increase revenue for the government, which can put the money to good use. Most of those interviewed view legalization as a step in the right direction, though some expressed the fear that it could encourage more people to abuse drugs. As Mike puts it (not his real name): “… [with] legalization, there is the potential that other, more dangerous drugs could become readily available [and] pushed on our youth.”
Legalization, of course, comes with heavy regulation from both the Canadian and provincial governments, as well as municipal administrations. Virtually everyone in our sample agrees with most of the regulations, one important point of contention being the legal age of consumption. Set at 18 years by the federal government, it was deemed too low by some of our respondents, since we do not yet know the exact effects of marijuana on brain development at a young age.
Most in our sample agree with newly elected Quebec Premier François Legault’s plan to set the legal age at 21. According to Norma: “At [this age], one is more mature and should understand what moderation is.” A similar view is echoed by other respondents, with some even suggesting a legal age of 25. Equally contentious is the private growth of marijuana plants. While the new federal law allows households to grow up to four plants for private consumption, most people in our sample see this as a negative, arguing that private growth should be banned outright. It would be the easiest way of ensuring, this group insists, that people comply with the law (users might be tempted to grow more than four plants and sell or trade what they don’t use). One respondent, Leonard, disagrees, pointing to the fact that people can already “make wine and beer in their homes.” Growing marijuana should not be treated any differently, according to him.
There was unanimous agreement with provinces and municipalities that ban marijuana smoking in public, in line with the ban on smoking tobacco in most public spaces. Rather, according to our sample, people should consume marijuana in the privacy of their homes, and in specifically designated public areas.
On the topic of marijuana sale, most in our sample were in favour of a government monopoly rather than allowing the sale through private businesses, citing efficiency and ease of control. However, as one of the interviewees, Ophelia, points out, “it may be easier to do this at the start of legalization.” Those against the government monopoly argue, firstly, that it is immoral for the governments to facilitate and profit from the consumption of marijuana. Secondly, they believe that it should be left to private interests to foster competition in the market.
A criticism of the government’s monopoly from respondents in general is the poor roll-out of legalization. In Quebec, in particular, most people agree that the SQDC or Société québécoise du cannabis has handled the process poorly, as was reported in the media. Low supply and high demand led to a shortage of legal marijuana, which does not bode well for the SQDC’s image.
Nevertheless, everyone in our sample expressed the hope that legalization will help prevent teenagers from using marijuana, though some expressed the fear that the opposite will happen. According to one respondent: “If parents treat marijuana the same way they treat alcohol, more minors could be exposed to it in their homes.” Legalization could alter the way marijuana is perceived, which is worrisome according to some. Some in our sample also expressed doubt as to the effectiveness of regulation, saying that, since teens have been buying marijuana from illegal channels until now, they will continue to do so.
While an overall majority of respondents see legalisation as a positive thing, both in the Italian-Canadian community and in the country at large (according to surveys), concerns remain – whether legalization will really curb illegal sales, and whether governments should be in the business of selling a psycho-active substance at all. As of this writing, legal marijuana supplies across the country are running low…
Alex Vaillant-Gamelin is an Honours Student in the English
Department at Bishop’s University, currently interning at Accenti.
Photo: Domenic Cusmano