Cannabis legalization is almost here and it’s coming with more than joints and edibles. It’s coming with legitimate concerns. Chief among them are questions about what happens the day after cannabis is legalized. Are there unintended consequences to legalization? What will happen when it becomes widely available?
Generally, there are three key anxieties surrounding the legalization: increased crime, increased exposure of the drug to children and impaired driving. All of these are critical issues that can be somewhat answered by looking to our southern neighbours.
On the subject of increased crime, for example, Colorado and Washington experienced a drop in crime rates after legalization, which is to be expected when a crime is no longer a crime. Colorado did, however, see an increase in illegal distribution and possession of illegal cannabis, yet almost all of those crimes were about moving the product to states where it was still illegal. Since Canada is legalizing federally and simultaneously, trafficking issues won’t translate the same way. Overall, the increased crime element will probably not be an issue outside of driving high, but new opportunities begets entrepreneurs. The potential for an entire industry to spring up around cannabis masking agents could enable employees to “beat” a drug test while high.
As for cannabis finding its way onto the playground, many parents are rightfully concerned about such a scenario. Thankfully, states that legalized cannabis saw slight decreases in youth usage instead of increases. The reasoning is still subject to debate, but you can never underestimate the power of parents doing something that teens once thought was cool.
Finally, there is the issue of intoxication. Legalization does lead to higher instances of driving while high, so it is likely to happen here. Treating high driving like drunk driving, both in legal consequences and as culturally unacceptable, will hopefully curb these instances, but it will take time and it will never truly go away. The real problem is in the intoxication testing, especially when it comes to being high at the workplace.
Alcohol, for better or worse, is surprisingly consistent in terms of its effects and how long it stays in the human body. It’s what makes testing for it so easy. The psychoactive component in cannabis, THC, is not as consistent. It affects different people in different ways and stays in the body less consistently than alcohol. So, when someone smokes up on the weekend and has an accident at work on Monday, they could be testing positive for THC without being impaired. We currently have few methods for concretely proving intoxication, and that could lead to some intense courtroom battles.
This is a new frontier for Canada. Education and responsibility, as always, will play a key role in keeping Canadians safe as cannabis makes its legal debut.