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GEORGE'S POND: Reefer Madness?

author: George Smith   illustrator: Lee Rapp

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IT’S ALL OVER, FOLKS. THE END IS NIGH. DAMNATION AND PERDITION. The “real Public Enemy No. 1” is poised to destroy our youth. Prepare for a tsunami of “sudden, violent, uncontrollable fits of laughter” quickly morphing into “emotional disturbances” culminating in acts of “shocking violence”.

Scary, eh? Well, according to some 1930s Hollywood scaremongers that’s exactly where we’re headed when marijuana becomes legal this summer.

But hold on. There’s more than one school of thought here. Perhaps cannabis is not quite the apocalyptic “new drug menace” the producers of that old schlock movie, Reefer Madness, depict.

Opinions about the harmful and/or beneficial effects of marijuana can vary wildly and are often polarizing. But one thing is certain. There’s nothing new about it. People have been using cannabis medicinally or just for the buzz since before the time of Christ.

Canadians have had legal access to medical marijuana since 2001. Advocates promote it as a treatment for glaucoma, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and a host of other ailments. While there are studies to support those claims, detractors question the science behind those studies and counter with warnings about adverse effects and addiction, just for starters.

There’s little common ground except when the discussion turns to the analgesic properties of weed. Indeed, there is even some current ongoing research into the viability of marijuana-based painkillers as alternatives to opioids. That could be a good thing.

Wait a minute, George. You’re not submitting this piece to The Lancet. Better alter course before you get in too far over your head.

Suffice it to say that, though the sky is probably not falling, you won’t see me lining up at the nearest legal pot shop anytime soon.

Maybe when used in moderation, legal recreational weed will turn out to be as benign as its proponents suggest. But maybe, like alcohol, it will also have a very dark side. There are many unanswered questions and I worry that we are jumping into legalization. So, while personally I will never say never, I’ll just wait and see.

Right now, I’m more curious about how it will be marketed. What will the stores be like?

Everyone of a certain age, knows how liquor stores have evolved. I remember going shopping with my dad every Saturday morning. Occasionally, he’d stop to pick up a bottle of Canadian Club and each time, he had to present a little booklet into which his purchases were entered. That allowed Big Brother to monitor his consumption.

By the time I reached the age of majority, Big Brother’s booklet was long gone, but a liquor licence was still required to buy booze. Getting that little yellow card was a rite of passage into manhood.

During my university days, I would get a few weeks’ employment at the local LCBO over the Christmas rush. Back then, buying alcohol was a semi-covert activity. Not a bottle to be seen in those dreary establishments, just rows of display boards listing all the products – each with a dedicated code number. You’d peruse the lists, enter your choices on a form and take that form to a cashier who’d stamp it as proof of payment. Then you’d present your stamped form to a counter person (my job) who would disappear into the inner sanctum to fetch your bottles. End of transaction.

Today’s LCBO outlets are nothing like that. Everything is on display and packaged so seductively that it’s hard to get out of there without purchasing more than you’d intended. Often, you’re even offered free tastings.

Can you imagine that in your new neighbourhood Ontario Cannabis Store? “Good day, sir. Try a puff of this? How about a brownie?”

Free thrills at legal pot shops seem very unlikely for the foreseeable future. Initially, at least, they’ll be tightly-regulated, behind-the-counter operations much like earlier versions of their LCBO brethren. But gradualism is a powerful force for change, making it easy to imagine an evolution like the one that’s changed the face of alcohol marketing. Who knows what an Ontario Cannabis Store will look like twenty or thirty years from now?

It’ll be interesting to see how it all unfolds. We’re unlikely to see an OCS here in Northumberland for a while yet. But when the inevitable does happen, I think I’ll don a ballcap and dark glasses and park outside just to see who is keen to sample the goodies inside. Chances are there won’t be many people of my vintage buying locally, but the daring few will be looking over their shoulders like they’re going into a sex shop.

We’re entering a strange new world with as many questions as answers. But those ancient warnings of an “unspeakable scourge” and “incurable insanity” seem more than a tad alarmist.

All that said, I may have a bit of Missouri in me. I’ll just make do with my daily pint of Kilkenny until someone convinces me that the benefits of cannabis are real and worth the money. By then I’ll probably be too far gone for it to do me any good.

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Jane Kelly Summer 2018

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