A curious group of more than 50 businessmen cleared the haze on cannabis legalization Wednesday after hearing from an expert on what regulated pot will mean, generally, for them and the country.
Probus Club of White Rock & South Surrey – made up of mostly retired businessmen and professionals – invited BC Centre on Substance Use researcher Jenna Valleriani to their meeting to “see what all of the excitement is about.”
Valleriani gave a presentation to the group on the history of cannabis, its prohibition period, access for medical purposes, concerns with legalization, the business outlooks and what the legalization framework will look like in the province.
Some attendees jotted down notes during the presentation. Probus member John Payne noted some members of the club consume cannabis for medical purposes but said he suspected that most members have never tried it.
The audience – which had an average age of 75, and was accompanied by a distinct pitch of a hearing-aid in the background – was attentive, inquisitive and, at times, playful.
The oldest man at the meeting was 94.
“I knew we shouldn’t have served the special brownies before the meeting,” a Probus member joked while trying to quiet the crowd before Valleriani’s presentation.
“Put that bong away,” another member quipped.
Valleriani told the crowd the “key concerns” with legalization of the drug is: impaired driving and how it’s enforced; eliminating the black market while protecting youth; ensuring racial disparities in enforcement don’t persist; impact on medical access; and border concerns with the U.S.
Following the presentation, Valleriani turned the floor over for questions, and one member asked her to expand on U.S. border concerns. He said crossing the border has been a topic of discussion amongst South Surrey/White Rock youth, particularly, he said, for those who play competitive sports.
“Sports teams that go down to the states… the border is something they’re scared – petrified – of,” he said. “If they get asked at the border at the U.S., and say they use marijuana, they can be banned for life. And if they lie, it’s a criminal offence.”
Valleriani said there is no solution yet to the circumstance.
“In terms of what you can offer those young people, there really isn’t any concrete answer. They can just simply refuse to answer, but they may be turned away,” she said.
Valleriani said that crossing the border, even if the traveller doesn’t have cannabis on their person, is one of the critical concerns that’s not getting the attention it needs.
“It hasn’t been addressed by the federal government. They talked, and danced around it. But there’s been no concrete conversation or advice on what Canadians should be doing,” she said.
Another Probus member referenced cigarette smoking, and asked if smoking cannabis is as dangerous for the lungs.
Valleriani said there are studies that indicate cannabis smoke is not as harmful – as it has fewer carcinogens compared to tobacco – but she noted it’s an issue that hasn’t been thoroughly researched for a definitive answer.
For medical purposes, Valleriani suggested vaporizing the bud. Vaporizing, she said, brings the substance up to the point of combustion but doesn’t actually combust, thus causing a vapor that can be inhaled.
“From a public-health perspective, we’re often encouraging people to vaporize rather than smoke.”
One Probus member asked Valleriani when Health Canada is going to give medical advice to doctors, so doctors feel more comfortable prescribing the drug for its medicinal purposes.
“That is like the 20-year struggle,” Valleriani said. “I think one of the big challenges is that the Canadian Medical Association does not support prescribing cannabis.”
Another Probus member said he knows about a dozen people in his age group who use cannabis to manage pain. He asked if, in her opinion, she believes there will be an uptick in the number of people who use cannabis once it’s legalized.
Valleriani said the province will likely see a small uptick, similar to what happened in some U.S. states, which will level out over the next few years.
“By and large, research shows us that the illegal status of cannabis isn’t really a deterrent… People who want to use cannabis likely already use cannabis.”
Marijuana is to be legalized in Canada on Oct. 17. Consumers will have to be at least 19 years old to legally purchase and consume the plant. It is to be sold through private and public stores, and residents will be allowed to carry 30 grams, which “is the size of a zip-lock bag full of cannabis.”
Residents will be allowed to grow four plants per household, but the plants cannot be visible to the public, and no smoking or vaporizing in places children frequent.
Valleriani told Peace Arch News after the meeting that people aged 60 and older are the quickest-growing demographic for medical-cannabis consumption in the country.