Updating the Outdated Stigma of Cannabis

Updating the Outdated Stigma of Cannabis in Canada

Are You Cool, Man?

Updating the Outdated Stigma of Cannabis in Canada

One of the many iconic scenes in the seminal 70’s movie Dazed and Confused features Slater (the token high school “stoner”) asking Mitch Kramer (the fresh-faced high school “jock”) a simple yet loaded question. The short scene plays out like this:

Slater: Are you cool, man?
Mitch Kramer: Like… how?
Slater: [rolling his eyes as he walks away] Okay…
Pink: He was asking if you get high.

Both the question and the answer seem simple enough, but this brief exchange offers an interesting glimpse into the controversial history of cannabis in modern society, as well as the complex dynamic between people who consume cannabis and, well, everyone else.

The illegal and taboo status of cannabis in North America over the last century and specifically during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, required weed aficionados like Slater to talk about cannabis covertly, in order to avoid any unwanted attention from the authorities or straight-laced adults within earshot.

Would Slater have asked the same covert question if he was asking Mitch to go have a beer? Likely not. But there was a time when prohibition required the same sort of stealthy interactions for friends looking to have a cocktail or two. So, what changed? Why is alcohol now an accepted part of our social and even celebratory customs?

This classic Dazed and Confused scene is a microcosm of how cannabis culture (personified by Slater) has been misunderstood by the rest of society (personified by the naive Mitch Kramer), thanks in large part to unsubstantiated government smear campaigns. These campaigns featured anti-cannabis propaganda which used outrageous fear tactics to convince people that weed was not only a dangerous drug – but that it was literally evil.

Since cannabis was legalized across Canada in 2018, there has been an on-going effort by cannabis advocates to destigmatize the negative perception of cannabis as a historically demonized plant, as well as shed some positive light on this polarizing plant and the unique culture and community that surround it.

While legalization in Canada (and an ever-growing number of states in the US) is certainly a step in the right direction, there’s still a lot of work to be done to undo the libelous history which led to the status quo’s perpetual negative perception of cannabis.

Here are a few ways that we – the enlightened, kindred-spirits of the cannabis community – can help normalize cannabis at a local level and within our own social circles, in hopes that together, we can build a positive future perception of cannabis in Canada and beyond:

EDUCATE YOURSELF AND OTHERS

You’ve probably heard the saying, “people fear what they don’t understand” – and cannabis is no exception. Thanks to decades of government fearmongering, propaganda and jail sentences, many people associate cannabis with addiction, poverty and crime. However, now that cannabis is legal in Canada, it has opened the door for many people who were previously deterred by its illegality, to give it a chance. The problem many cannabis-curious Canadians now face is, where to begin?

The better we (the cannabis-friendly community) know the various types, formats and facts about cannabis, the more easily we can provide helpful information to our friends, colleagues and family members looking to dip their toe in the proverbial “weed waters”. Brushing up on our own modernized cannabis knowledge and then sharing it with others, is a small way of advancing the normalization of cannabis in Canadian culture.

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Categories and components of Cannabis

Nowadays, most cannabis packaging comes with a scientific breakdown of everything you need to know about the weed you’re purchasing and what sort of high you can (generally) expect. For many cannabis-curious folks out there, understanding and having control of the strength of cannabis they’re consuming will go a long way to ease common concerns around having “bad trips” or “greening out”.

However, for people that are new to cannabis, most of what they read on the packaging will make little to no sense. The more we can anecdotally educate our social circles on the differences between things like Sativa v. Hybrid v. Indica, how THC and CBD differ, what different strains are known for and how to identify good v. bad weed, the more empowered they’ll become to try it for themselves and (hopefully) continue to spread the positive cannabis vibes within their own networks.

Methods of consumption

Another common deterrent for trying cannabis is the health concern around smoking and the lack of knowledge around the various format options available for consuming it. Most cannabis producers and retailers now carry a wide array of format options including flower, oils, edibles/drinkables, vapes, sprays and more, providing several smoke-free (and oftentimes super tasty!) cannabis options.

NORMALIZE SOCIAL CANNABIS CONSUMPTION

In much the same way that Slater had to conceal the fact that he was going outside to smoke a joint, consuming cannabis in a public or social setting has historically been perceived as crude or disrespectful. But now that it’s legal to buy cannabis in the same way that we can buy a 2-4 of Molson Canadian from public or private retailers, why should we still be forced to abide by and tolerate these negative perceptions? The simple answer is, we shouldn’t.

If you’re of legal age in your state or province and want to consume cannabis at social functions, at your parents house, in the park or anywhere else (without being negligent), then you should do so and not try to hide it. By being unabashedly transparent about cannabis consumption, we transfer the onus of shame from ourselves, onto those who are being judgemental based on their own dated biases.

PROMOTING THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF CANNABIS

Cannabis has a ton of known (and yet-to-be-discovered) medical benefits for a range of different physical and mental afflictions. It’s not up to us to diagnose health issues or prescribe cannabis, however we can certainly make others aware of the various medically proven health benefits cannabis can provide for issues such as PTSD, autism, epilepsy, insomnia, stress, and many others. It has also proven to be a very successful substitute for many of the harsh and addictive opioid drugs commonly prescribed for pain management.

It stands to reason that promoting the proven positive medical applications of cannabis to the general public will further contribute to the overall destigmatization of cannabis in our society.

SUPPORT CANNABIS ADVOCACY AND CLEMENCY

Finally, a big part of improving the future perception of cannabis in Canadian society, is admitting and reconciling the past wrongs that have been committed due to the unfair politicization of the cannabis plant. There are still hundreds if not thousands of Canadians in jail (and a dizzying amount more in the US) who’s only crime was having small amounts of cannabis on them for personal consumption.

If the Canadian government has openly admitted that cannabis is no longer the demonized drug from the past and is now actually profiting from the sale of cannabis, it is hypocritical for these men and women to still be convicted of their crimes. Until this is fully reconciled, the negative stigma around cannabis in Canada will never be fully abolished.

You can help by learning more about Cannabis Advocacy and Amnesty in Canada and showing your support by signing petitions, sending letters to your local government and donating if/what you can.

IN CLOSING – JUST BE COOL, MAN.

Much the same as fans of cannabis shouldn’t be written off for smoking weed, we shouldn’t disregard individuals that aren’t (yet) comfortable being around or consuming cannabis. Obviously, we should always respect other people’s personal opinions, but by employing some of the above tactics to help break down negative stigmas around cannabis, we may all one day see eye-to-eye on a topic that has divided our society and culture for decades… but until that day: Just Be Cool, Man.

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