Has legalization changed how Canadians view marijuana?

Canada hasn’t treated marijuana as a big deal in years. The new laws that make everyone’s favorite plant fully legal to enjoy could be understood as little more than a formality. This is in terms of the culture of acceptance around marijuana, let alone the realities of how everyday Canadians consume it. This does depend somewhat on where you are, though even the most rural provinces seem to have abandoned efforts to make marijuana consumption a moral issue. Bigger cities and especially British Columbia, Canada’s coastal province with the longest history of grow-ops and “cannabis culture”, are where any visible changes will be hardest to spot. No matter how tolerant of marijuana Canadians have been in recent years, many will have to get used to the complexities of normalization as the implications of the new laws take hold. In a near future where pot is basically the same category of product as tobacco or alcohol, a wave of new and enthusiastic customers will drive changes to the culture that generations of enthusiasts established in spite of prohibition.

If it’s a year ago and you’re going to smoke pot or carry it around in Canada, you’re already unlikely to be “caught” let alone arrested, charged, or jailed. You’re still breaking a law, though, and that means you worry less about extensions to that violation. As new bureaucratic rules enter into the mix, smokers will have to pay attention to nuances they may have previously ignored. Driving Under the Influence will have new ambiguities and distinctions, some of which are already controversial. Quantity has always been a thing due to trafficking distinctions, but legalization isn’t evenly distributed across all sources. Distinctions will continue to exist between government approved and “illicit” product. Whether or not violations of these new or refined rules will be enforced is currently a matter of debate. Many expect 2018 to be a kind of grace period with a strong crackdown coming with the new year. Others point to examples of busts and operations that are already spearheading the effort to drive away extra-legal sources and solidify the government’s position as the main channel through which the legal weed flows.

Canadians are used to a decades-old black market that has was already heavily disrupted by the establishment of online sources and Mail Order Marijuana (MOMs). Many Canadians will stick with getting their pot “from a guy” but it can’t be understated how powerful an impact legalization will have on the culture around purchasing marijuana. Prices are already a sore point and both quality and quantity seem to be the same. New customers who avoided pot because of its illegality are not going to care. Media streaming services have shown that most people prefer to buy things if it is convenient and the same should hold true with pot.

As the market stabilizes, the current growing pains will ease off and the market will grow exponentially. Symbols like “4:20” or the prolific pot leaf emblem will be nostalgic rather than cool or subversive. Branding and diversification of marijuana products will get beyond the enthusiasts and hobbyists with their horticulture and continue the trends that the online market has established. Already, the product lists at retail pot stores look like restaurant menus.

Until we get there, Canadians will have to deal with some temporary inconveniences. In Saskatoon, an important city as an indicator of how rural Canada will receive the new laws, licenses for retail stores were given by lottery. This means people with no experience in marijuana, business, or retail now have front row seats to a potentially explosive market. The scrutiny is as heavy as the anticipation, with weeks having gone by with no shops open due to supply shortages. Bigger cities are already relaxing but visiting the only open Saskatoon shop means lines, ID checks, intimidating security, and a one item per customer limit. For a while, complications like this will drive people to continue to get pot the way they did a year ago, only with much reduced risk. Still, some people will never embrace the new way and will be there to say “I told you so” if the governments ever sell the market out to big companies.