By Trevor Busch
With the days ticking down to the federal government’s appointed date for cannabis legalization, Canadians from coast to coast will soon be waking up to a new reality, where a substance that was illicit the day before has now become big business. Leave it to the corporate elite, of course, to never fail to exploit a budding new industry. Avarice comes in many colours, and green has always been one of them. Now it’s just more literal.
Still, anyone who believed that the industry would be governed by a cottage industry of mom-and-pop pot producers who grow and sell their own product out of a hole in the wall storefront in every sizable Canadian community, is sadly underestimating the potential for immense profit and the dollar signs flashing in the eyes of many a corporate executive.
Few would argue that the sale of alcohol is an unprofitable endeavour, and if it was, why is there a liquor store or an off-sale on almost every street in our downtown area? And Taber is far from unique when it comes to that little economic statistic. Canadians love booze whether we admit it or not, and perhaps in many cases we prefer not to admit it — or at least not the extent of our possible addiction. But alcohol has been produced and sold legally for decades, making it something that we as a society appear to accept, rightly or wrongly.
In the end, however, we can’t ignore that this substance is a powerful drug. But we also can’t ignore that people seem to want it, will indeed get it at almost any cost. If there was a message that was sent loud and clear by the failure of alcohol prohibition in the 20th century, it was that attempts to limit or eliminate whatever substance an individual or group wants — whatever vice you can name — are almost always utterly unsuccessful.
You can’t police morality, despite what some still consistently believe. That’s why municipal legislation like our “Community Standards Bylaw” — even the title smacks of social conservatism — attempts to ensure that we’re all pleasant little boys and girls in some kind of bland, buttoned-down eden where conformity is our ethos, and slavish devotion to order our creed. And that’s why, constant reader, it remains just as laughable today as it did three years ago.
People come in all shapes and sizes, and there are many round pegs that will never fit square holes. Trying to force them is an exercise in futility. Ask any former communist government how much success they actually achieved in socially engineering the societies they controlled, despite all the vast resources they may have poured into it. Attempting to Baden-Powell all the boys and Betty Crocker all the girls will always be destined for failure. All people — and it seems remarkable that here in the 21st century we still have to learn this over and over again — are not the same. So why do so many attempt to make them that way?
Like alcohol, cannabis is a substance that despite decades of prohibition, Canadians still consume and desire whether it’s illegal or not. Certainly part of that probably stems from the fact that what individuals witness as the reality does not measure up to the propaganda that governments have employed over the years to influence their citizens. Not only that, legal drugs like nicotine and alcohol don’t offer much in the way of any possible health benefit to the user. The same can’t be said about cannabis, which is used medically to treat any number of ailments and afflictions.
So, if we’ve established that Canadians like their alcohol no matter what it might be doing to their health, bottom lines, family relationships, or employment, the obvious elephant in the room will now be cannabis on Oct. 17. Because make no mistake, even if the statistics don’t currently support it, there is a wide percentage of Canadians that either use the substance habitually or occasionally, or for medical purposes. The stereotypical high school drop-out or latter-day hippie are now largely things of the past. People from all walks of life use cannabis, and post-legalization will probably show us many more from multitudes of professions that are now ready to admit their use, whereas in a prohibition environment they’re still reluctant even when promised blanket anonymity. I think it will come as quite a surprise to many — users and non-users, opposed or in support — how many Canadians, even high-ranking and well-respected individuals, are enthusiastic users.
Here in Bible-Belt southern Alberta, preparing for cannabis legalization has been a painful experience for many municipalities. One would be hard-pressed to find more antiquated and outdated opinions and attitudes among many — but not all — municipal representatives, including right here in Taber. While other communities of similar size that possess a more progressive council, like Olds, have wholeheartedly embraced the cannabis industry and are poised to cash in on thousands of potential jobs, Taber had pursued an oppositional approach — including attempts to lobby the AUMA to fight the federal government’s legislation, among other efforts — that won’t see any investment pouring in to our community.
Why invest in a municipality that has publicly and repeatedly announced it is an enemy of the industry? What facilitation or assistance could a prospective business operator expect from a town that has taken this kind of stance? We’ll invest our millions elsewhere, thank you very much.
And the hits just keep on coming. During the most recent town council meeting on Sept. 24 — where town council finally passed its cannabis-related land use amendments by the barest of split votes — Coun. Joe Strojwas took a final swipe at the industry.
“This is not about legalizing cannabis, this is about the commercialization of THC. THC is a totally different product, and we’ve been going down a road for some time where we’ve allowed alcohol, we’ve allowed gambling, and we’re adding one more vice to the world. I cannot support this resolution.”
Setting aside for a moment the head-in-the-sand aspect of such a comment — whether or not you agree with it, cannabis legalization is coming, and ensuring your municipality is unprepared by consistently attempting to vote down such bylaws isn’t doing anyone any favours.
That being said, such a statement is interesting coming from an individual that makes at least part of his income from peddling alcohol in the community. If one is so concerned about the “vices” affecting Taber, maybe shuttering the doors on sed business should be your first stop. And if you don’t see an inherent conflict of interest in fighting tooth and nail from an elected position against an incoming industry, an industry that will peddle another “vice” which has the potential to eat into your own profits, that’s a remarkable feat of self-deception.
People see things through the lens they choose, I suppose. Whatever your opinion of cannabis legalization — or regulation, as our local police chief never fails to point out — it’s unlikely to be an armageddon of drug abuse and intoxication, as the fear mongerers would have us believe, and much more business as usual than many would probably credit at this point.
Let’s just say things after Oct. 17 are going to be interesting.