Cannabis has been legal for six weeks in Canada, but that hasn’t stopped many from feeling shunned or as though their use is still stigmatized. (Thought Catalog/Unsplash)

Cannabis has been legal for six weeks in Canada, but that hasn’t stopped many from feeling shunned or as though their use is still stigmatized. (Thought Catalog/Unsplash)

Cannabis may be legal across Canada, but is it publicly accepted in B.C.?

Local cannabis user speaks out about the lingering stigma surrounding cannabis

On October 17, 2018, Canada became the second country in the world, behind Uruguay, to federally legalize the consumption of cannabis, ending nearly a century of prohibition. But six weeks later, many cannabis users are wondering what’s different, if anything.

“Nothing’s really changed—it’s all the same, and I hate the stigma (that’s still attached to smoking cannabis),” said Connie Sanders. Black Press Media has changed this name to protect the identity of her children.

In 1908, Canada enacted the Opium Act, which saw the criminalization of morphine, opium, and cocaine use. And amidst mindsets that believed in such things as reefer madness and the marijuana menace, cannabis was added to the Confidential Restricted List of the Narcotics Drug Act Amendment Bill in 1923.

READ MORE: Are you ready for marijuana to be legal Oct. 17?

And there it stayed until the Liberal Party enacted the Cannabis Act in June, 2018. But legalizing cannabis usage has been on the minds of Canadians for decades.

Since the late 1990s, public opinion polls have continued to show more and more agreement with the statement, ‘Smoking marijuana should not be a criminal offense.’ In 2001, medical marijuana was legalized, and by June 2017, seven out of 10 Canadians were in favour of legalization. And perhaps most recently, a survey conducted in January of 2018 showed at least 23 per cent of Canadians admitted to using cannabis within the previous 12 months.

Yet now that smoking a joint is as legal as smoking a cigarette, or drinking a glass of wine, Sanders—who’s married with two children—says she’s not noticing much acceptance, which she says is strange, considering how many years it’s been somewhat culturally acceptable.

“There’s still lots of mystery behind (marijuana),” said Dr. Steven Esau, manager of the Fraser Region Youth Addiction Centre.

“The lack of knowledge of what’s behind cannabis and what it does to the human body … (may be part of) people’s hesitancy in accepting (it). We don’t totally know its magnitude of affect on the development of the brain.”

But affect the brain it does, as Esau continued on to explain that cannabis is fat-soluble, which allows it to cross the blood-brain barrier.

“And the marijuana we have now is different than what they had in the ’70s. It’s far more potent. So maybe not knowing the full grasp of what it could do to a developing brain (worries people).”

That may explain why Sanders had a mom pick up her child after a play date, “and we haven’t seen that kid since,” she said sadly as she watched her youngest play in the living room.

It wasn’t that she had been smoking in front of the children, rather the scent of cannabis was present in her home, but, she says, the smell tends to linger.

“I live in the cannabis world: I eat it, smoke it, and rub it on myself … (almost) 24 hours a day. I smell like it? I always smell like it, so they can’t (judge based just) on that. People (seem to) get offended by its strong smell—even if it hasn’t been smoked.”

READ MORE: Chilliwack’s largest ever marijuana grow-op case finally over with no verdict

It’s like the disdain for marijuana use has been ingrained in our culture and everyone has an opinion on those who use it.

“But an opinion is yours, and free to have, but it’s not part of the law,” said RCMP spokesperson, Mike Rail.

Which is why the Royal Canadian Mounted Police began training in regards to dealing with cannabis prior to legislation being passed this October.

The point is no longer whether or not you agree with the consumption of cannabis, says Rail, it’s now about the application and enforcement of our country’s laws, which no longer bans cannabis use for any reason.

”And as the laws change, society (needs to) change and (we) have to do what (we) can to (deal with those changes) … but there are going to be growing pains in any (situation) like this.

“It’s not a matter of just flipping a switch, it’s the way we’re going as a society,” continued Rail. “You learn to work within that society, and it’s new, but you’ll learn.”

And that’s not just for police officers, but members of the public in general: “We’re all the same, so now we evolve (to culturally accept) cannabis,” added the seasoned officer.

“We (also) need to research it,” said Esau. People need to “really engage in the research to see what the long-term effects are, and (whether legalization) was a good move or not. The more research we do, the more knowledge that could be transferred to the public” to possibly assuage the lingering issues they have with the former narcotic.

But Sanders says she isn’t so sure that it’s that simple for everybody.

“I have to say that there’s still an underground lifestyle (surrounding cannabis use). I know so many moms who smoke, who get together in groups and smoke while watching their kids … but guaranteed I’ve lost friends because I’m so open about my (cannabis usage).”

And while Sanders says she tries her “best to be very honest from the beginning” of any new relationship, especially one involving her children, she’s still meeting resistance to her usage of marijuana.

“So what’s different, really? Not much except it gives me more power in my chest so if I’m somewhere and I’m not feeling well, now I can (legally) say, ‘I’m going to smoke a joint,’ but I know people will still stare.”

And stare they do. Sanders says she does her best to obey all public smoking laws, yet still bears witness to mothers pulling their children down sidewalks away from her, or receives snide comments from people while in public spaces.

“Why can’t it be accepted like going to have a drink of wine?” Sanders asked rhetorically. “Personally, I’d much rather smoke than drink. Why can’t we be like Amsterdam where it’s just so accepted and normal with (marijuana) plants growing in public gardens.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Robert’s column
Robert Barron column: New hospital shouldn’t charge for parking

Paying a parking meter is the last thing people visiting a hospital should have to worry about.

A 3.0-magnitude earthquake occurred off Ucluelet just after 12:30 a.m. on April 10 and was reportedly felt as far south as Oregon. (Map via United States Geological Survey)
Quake off Ucluelet reportedly felt as far south as Oregon

Magnitude 1.5 earthquake also reported off Vancouver Island’s west coast hours earlier

Asparagus root, dug up from the old patch and ready to be transplanted. (Mary Lowther photo)
Mary Lowther column: Some tips on growing asparagus

When choosing asparagus I recommend buying male plants for juicier, plumper spears.

If you’re looking for a goat time, visit Russell Farms Market! (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)
Sarah Simpson Column: Looking for a goat time on Good Friday

If you drive by the farm market a little slower you see the goat pen.

The McCloskey-Hydro Rain Garden, located in a sunny Hydro corridor and receiving about 2.5 million litres of rainwater runoff per year from the roof of nearby McCloskey Elementary School. (Deborah Jones photo)
A&E column: From nature to poetry to puppets, there’s plenty afoot

What’s going on in the Cowichan Valley arts and entertainment scene

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

The 10-part Netflix series Maid, which is being exclusively shot in Greater Victoria, was filming near Prospect Lake in Saanich last month. (Photo courtesy Fred Haynes)
Province announces $150,000 towards South Island film studio, fulfilling B.C. NDP promise

Investment to fund movie studio feasibility study at Camosun College

Most Read