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VIBERT: Canada’s about to go the way of Uruguay with legal pot

Jim Vibert
Jim Vibert - SaltWire Network

Are we ready?

Three weeks from today, Oct. 17, Canada becomes the second nation on the planet where cannabis is legal for recreational use.

The founding member of the reefer-nation club is Uruguay. The small South American country tucked between giants Brazil and Argentina legalized pot a year ago, although it remains illegal for foreigners to buy — sure it does.

Contrary to backpack-travel lore, cannabis is illegal in the Netherlands, including in Amsterdam, home to cafes where coffee can be hard to come by, but the barista will happily sell you a couple of grams of flower top. Cannabis was decriminalized in the Netherlands more than 40 years ago, and “coffeeshops” became the distribution network. Go figure.

In Atlantic Canada, all four provincial governments handed the pot business over to their liquor monopolies. In P.E.I., Newfoundland and Labrador, and New Brunswick pot subsidiaries were created so weed wouldn’t sully the good name of the booze trade. In Nova Scotia, all pretense of separation was forsaken, and the liquor corporation took on weed as a product line.

At last count, it looked like there would be about 66 government-run or licensed cannabis outlets spread across the region on Oct. 17. Newfoundland is licensing some 30 retailer outlets — Loblaw’s got 10 licences — to sell pot, while P.E.I. and New Brunswick are planning four and 20 stand-alone government stores, respectively. All but one of Nova Scotia’s 12 cannabis shops are co-located with — but physically separated from — liquor stores. Online pot purchases will be on offer everywhere.

That’s just the lay of the land. The big question: will be any discernible changes in behaviour?

It’s not like cannabis has been unavailable. Storefront dispensaries popped up like mushrooms in a manure pile once it was clear Justin Trudeau wasn’t kidding.

That’s likely to change. If there’s one thing governments will not abide, it’s competition for your tax, booze, and now pot dollars. If you want to test that theory, hang a Liquor-For-Sale sign on your front door and see who arrives first — the police or the customers. At best, it will be a tie.

A youthful source predicts an extended high will settle over the Canadian landscape when pot is legal, if only to acknowledge the milestone, then things will lurch back to normal.

Older acquaintances with some familiarity with the product, anticipate very little change in user habits for a year. Next year eatables and drinkables will be available in Canada, and some cannabis connoisseurs expect that event to bring more dramatic change than the nationalization of the illegal pot trade, which is what legalization is intended to accomplish.

In California, one of nine U.S. states where recreational pot use is legal — it remains a federal crime — chocolate cannabis is reported to be very popular. Happy Easter.

Back at home, supply problems and lineups at retail outlets are a distinct possibility on and, for a time, after Oct. 17. The Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation anticipates lineups for weed and advises customers to schedule their pot run for “non-peak” hours. Previous generations of pushers advised their customers to park around the corner.

Whether the advent of legal cannabis results in changes to the patterns of daily life is a question that will have to remain unanswered, at least for a few more weeks.

Will grocery check-out lines grind to a crawl while the candy display that funnels shoppers to the cash register empties? At Starbucks, will the guy in front of you change his order seven times, before landing on a Vanilla Bean Coconut milk latte?

Is Canada about to become a nation of underachieving stoners? It seems unlikely, but the nation could stand to chill a bit, don’t you think?

Our one abutting neighbour is full of sound and fury at all hours of the day and night, and we can’t call the cops because they are the cops.

We’re just now escaping the hottest summer days in living memory, tornadoes are touching down within sight of the Peace Tower, much of the continental West Coast burned again this year, and the Stanley Cup has resided in the U.S.A. for a quarter of a century.

A harmless little national ganja break may be just what the doctor ordered, if only there were an extra doctor to place the order.

Alas, but the new legal cannabis comes with a stout warning, echoing what those members of the class of ’77 who hung tough and toked their way through the past four decades have been saying all along. “The weed’s much more potent now than it was back then, even more potent than the Maui Wowie.”

Better allow some extra time to get the groceries, come Oct. 17.

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