It was enlightening to sit through a recent public meeting in Hay River on the coming legalization of cannabis, or marijuana if you prefer.

The federal government’s legalization is now 10 months away, and many people in Hay River are not looking forward to that major change in society.

According to comments at the Sept. 19 meeting held by the GNWT, some community residents are completely against legalization and are especially worried it will only worsen the NWT’s substance abuse problem.

In that view, legalization of marijuana will lead to more people using the drug. That might seem to be an obvious result of legalization, but we don’t think it is true.

First of all, does anyone believe the existing drug laws stop many people from using marijuana, if they are so inclined? We don’t think so.

Of course, there may be a rare few people who have been stopped by the laws, but we haven’t met them or heard about them. As far as we can tell, people don’t use marijuana for a variety of reasons – mostly because they just don’t want to do it – and not because of the law.

Therefore, legalization won’t affect the number of users, because the existing law is not affecting the number of users.

Nor do we think that the existing laws really do anything to stop the distribution of marijuana.

Many people want the drug and there are always going to be those willing to risk getting caught trafficking because of the money they can make. That’s not really our opinion. The RCMP has told us that many times when we report on drug busts in the community.

So while the current laws are not really preventing the use or distribution of marijuana, what might happen when legalization takes place?

It the government plays it right, we could see the use of marijuana slightly decrease.

How, you might wonder, could that possibly happen?

Well, under legalization, the government will have control over the production and distribution of marijuana, and the minimum age for purchase will be 18 (which can be increased by individual provinces and territories). We can probably all agree that government will be responsible in trying to keep marijuana out of the hands of young people, whereas drug pushers have no such ethical concerns.

Government can also legislate the packaging of marijuana. And taking a page from cigarette sales, it can encourage people to stop smoking marijuana through that packaging.

Government will also have more financial resources – from the sale of marijuana – to advertise against its use by young people.

And in an odd way, legalization of marijuana might cause that drug to lose its aura of youthful rebellion. If anything can make marijuana boring and unappealing, it might be letting the government control it.

As for adults, if they want to use marijuana – just like alcohol and tobacco – it should be their choice, and in the not too distant future it will be in Canada.

Legalization is coming, and it will not be a bleak descent into societal decay that some people fear.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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