Over the past couple years, The Sound has been exploring how, what used to be considered the ‘fringes’ of society, are now powerful drivers, shaping culture on a mass scale. This has resulted in a disruption of a singular ideal, a breakdown of a “mainstream” and a reconsideration of our collective values and experiences as new voices emerge.
The conversation around legalizing cannabis has been in the public eye for decades. As of late, the pro side of the debate has been making major strides. Marijuana sale and recreational use is now legal in over 24 States and the Canadian Liberal government is slated to introduce legislation to legalize in 2017.
What this all means we don’t entirely know, but we’re curious to join the conversation and consider what role it should play in society, in our lives and in our economy.
We sat down with four Canadians who have, and do, use cannabis to talk about their relationship with it, views on the current landscape, thoughts on the future and advice for marketers thinking of getting in on the buzz. What they have to say might surprise you!
Section 1: Relationship with cannabis
How long have you been using cannabis?
I had just turned 17 when I first smoked a joint; it was the beginning of experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Curiosity about being high, and the temptation of something forbidden were my main motivators. I still use it almost daily, just to have a nice buzz after work. It’s no different than having a drink but, unlike alcohol, you don’t have to ‘recover’ from the night before and I know I’m always in control.
I started in high school with friends. It was a social activity we could do together on weekends where we could feel older, cooler. Over time it gradually became something I used to relax. I am a very anxious person, so it helps me decompress at the end of the day. I mainly use it for anxiety and as pain medication today.
I began in my early teens. Initially, I used it as a way to rebel. I hung out with punks. Then it became a social habit, I would use with peers recreationally. When I moved to Vancouver, I joined the “hemp movement” and worked at Hemp BC and actively protested for legalization. Working at Hemp BC introduced me to the medicinal affects of cannabis, and I began to champion user rights to self-medicate by joining a group of women to found the BC Compassion Club Society. Today my use is vastly different to that time period; I’ve gone from multiple times a day to maybe once every few months.
I tried weed for the first time in university. Maybe once every couple of months I’d get a small stash. I am convinced if I had easier access during that time I would most certainly have used weekly or even daily. That being said, I did not crave it or spend tons of time hunting it down. I stopped between the ages of 32 and 36, my “breeding years”. I was not comfortable using while pregnant but I missed it. Big time. My use changed about 4 years ago when I had an injury that kicked off a full year of high pain. Then I was diagnosed with Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension, which causes head pain, eye pain, potential blindness, light sensitivity, and tinnitus. That is when weed became a pain management tool rather than a way to make every fu*king movie funny. I started using 3-5 times a week, and it was a true blessing. Without it, I would not have been able to be a full time worker, a patient mom, and a relaxed spouse. I couldn’t walk without high levels of pain because of a bulging disc in my back squishing my sciatic nerves. I enjoy it, but I feel like daily use impacts my motivation. I find myself thinking I should ease back a bit. It wouldn’t be healthy holistically, not just physically, for me to drink alcohol every day so I am now questioning my use. It’s hard though. Pot helps my physical pain tremendously and I may be looking at an illness that I have to manage for life.
In your experience, what are its unique benefits?
It provides almost instant relief to pain, nausea and stressors with negligible side affects. It’s all-natural so I don’t have to worry about harmful chemicals, unlike cigarettes. Also, there are no calories so I don’t really have to worry about gaining weight with intake, unlike alcohol. It also helps me zone out and slow my brain down.That instant feeling of mellowing out, opening up, finding humour in the most random of things, having cerebral conversations. Alcohol is great, but it gets messy. With weed basically I find everything hilarious or intellectually stimulating until I feel that sleepy feeling and I pass out.
The other main benefit is pain relief without unpleasant side effects. I do not like pain medication. I have tried it and been stuck on it in order to live without pain but the side effects often make it NOT worth it.
I also truly enjoy the intimacy and closeness of sharing a joint with someone. Having an experience with someone that is starting at the same moment and you are feeling a similar way together. Then there’s the ritual of rolling and passing. There is something in the whole experience that pleases me greatly.
Tell us about your current buying experience
I’m a member of a dispensary. The convenience of not being on a dealer’s schedule is kind of the best and I’m more at ease when in public, especially around the police.
My use is so infrequent but I don’t have any issues with access. I’m not using a dispensary or mail order but I think they offer safety, affordability, knowledge of the source, variety of strains and a cleaner product.
I use a dispensary. I don’t have a prescription, just a membership. Having this membership makes it easier to acquire quality pot. I am able to deal with knowledgeable individuals and avoid sketchy backroom deals. The people that work at dispensaries are very knowledgeable and can help me find the right pot for what I am looking to treat- anxiety, pain, etc. It’s a more reputable seller.
I use a dispensary and mail order. I prefer dispensary as I can smell, look and ask questions. However, I love the ability to simply order online and it arrives in 2 days! Convenience and normalization is key. I love that I no longer have to ask someone if they “know a guy”.
Section 2: weighing in on the debate
With legalization back in the spotlight, our users weighed in on the decades long debate…
How do you respond to the idea that marijuana is a “gateway drug”? Any other misconceptions?
I think it’s an out-dated way of looking at marijuana. An addictive personality is an addictive personality. People who don’t use it think it makes you out of control, that you can’t function normally, which isn’t true.
While I don’t agree with the blanket statement that “marijuana is a gateway drug”, I do understand how that could be perceived. If someone is in an emotional space where “disconnecting” is preferable to being completely present that characteristic of marijuana may prove to not be enough; which could lead to experimentation with other types of escapism that could include stronger drugs. The most common misconception I believe people have is that it is an herb that can be used by everyone.
I don’t believe marijuana is a gateway drug. I just think people that are open to new experiences will want to try other drugs, within reason, if they had a positive experience with pot. The same could be said for cigarettes or alcohol – if you like some stimulants, you will probably like others. I think it’s a personality thing, not a hard and fast rule.
I do not see it as a gateway drug. It certainly has not been for me, and I USE! There are a lot of misconceptions regarding what cannabis can and cannot DO, where it can LEAD, and it’s role in health care. It is a cultural and societal position; fear driven and not logical. Our society in general sees cannabis as dangerous, that it will turn you into a “stoner” who does not have any ambitions. I dispute that. Some of the most passionate, engaged, ambitious people I know use. They are all kicking ass. We know alcohol use over time causes serious physical ailments and for some can lead to being an alcoholic which ruins bodies & families.
What do you see as the biggest benefits to legalization? Any drawbacks or concerns?
Depending on the legal framework, I feel that small businesses could be started that could stimulate the economy. And, users wouldn’t be criminals for doing something that’s much less harmful than alcohol. My concerns include not being able to grow your own and being forced to buy from government licensed growers, even if the product is too expensive or not good quality.
If I’m completely honest I’m not sure if I am 100% on board with legalization, which is ironic since I broke the law for 5 years campaigning for it. I believe in decriminalization and legalization for medicinal use. My concern with legalization lies in safety. For example driving, many don’t measure a cannabis high with a level of intoxication like alcohol yet it impairs judgement and motor skills.
It makes it easier to buy; I don’t have to go to sketchy people. You get more knowledge of product and more consistent quality. Regulation means that I won’t have harsh chemicals or mould in my pot as there is more stringent quality control. And, taxation from pot going to social services, infrastructure will help the community.
Safety and knowledge of what you are getting. Advice from experienced professionals on strains that are known to be good for your medical condition. No more hustle to find a good, consistent source. Those are the benefits. My concern is around edibles. With vaping or smoking, you can control your high. I actually find it hard to get “too high”. But edibles are inconsistent. We are advised to try a small amount first to know how we will respond to it. However, I have certainly felt too high with edibles. My true concern is with teens and edibles.
You’re a parent, or about to be one, what would you say to your teenage son or daughter if you found out they were using marijuana?
I told my son at the age of 16, that his brain is still developing and having a regular habit could interfere. I stressed it’s not the worst thing he could be doing, but like alcohol, he needs to be responsible if he chooses to use it.
I wouldn’t have any issue with the actual use of marijuana but I would have questions about the intention around it i.e. is it peer pressure? Bandwagon? Stress relief? I would also want to know about the source and its quality, no chemicals.
I would tell them that they shouldn’t smoke before age 21. There are studies that suggest pot can negatively affect the human brain during development. Had I known this, I wouldn’t have started so early. Who knows how smart I could have been if I had waited until I was done developing!
This is a question I think about frequently and I really don’t know how I will handle it. The moment I think about it, I see my hypocrisy. I logically do not mind. They will try it, but I would prefer they not USE it while a teenager. There are so many changes occurring at that age, the hormones alone are intense. It is a tumultuous time. That being said, I recognize what I prefer is exactly what I did. My position could come from natural bias rather than thoughtful consideration.
I would hope that I don’t tell them not to use, that is pointless, counterintuitive and not what I truly believe. I hope I can guide them to reflect on whether it is a positive presence in their life or not. Ask why they like it and listen. Learn where they are getting it and decide if it is safe. Discuss how they feel during after use so they can see if there is an impact to their socialization, motivation, thoughts and moods. I hope I approach it with thought rather than a fear induced reaction. And I hope by then I’ve unpacked a lot of this and have prepared so I can respond in a way that is positive. I believe teen’s get into more trouble with alcohol than weed. I need to get my head around all of this.
Section 3: Thinking about the future
There has already been a marked shift in the conversation, but how it will all pan out is anyone’s guess. We asked our users what they think the future holds…
What impact do you hope changing regulation will have long term, socially and culturally?
Hopefully, those old stigmas will go away, and it will no longer be unfairly demonized. Also, knowing that Canadian weed is popular, the economic opportunities could be very fruitful.
I hope it will allow gardeners to be above board, enabling them to share their expertise and not be seen as criminals and for those who choose to use cannabis to not be seen as criminals. I would also like to see an evolution to a place where an individual can choose how they wish to “care” for their body.
Less overcrowded prisons, less social stigma surrounding pot. Hopefully taxes will bring more money into municipal, provincial and federal budgets, depending on how it’s distributed. And, new jobs – a new industry is being created, one that I’m sure will take off.
I hope it will lead to an integration of cannabis and pharmaceutical medication. I would like to be able to speak to my doctor about the benefits, or lack of benefits, for health. I would like my doctor to be educated and look to cannabis as another tool in the medical toolbox. Today I get this information from the Internet or dispensary. I like the idea of someone who has spent years learning about the body to give me this advice, rather than simply trusting a source I’ve vetted to the best of my amateur ability. I also hope that it normalizes recreational cannabis use, and I can walk into the dispensary in my neighbourhood as indifferently as I walk into a pharmacy. Who knows, perhaps I can even walk into a pharmacy for it all. That being said, I hope it does not become “sterile” like pharmaceuticals. I like interacting with the product, smelling it and seeing it before making my purchase choice.
What has surprised you the most about the public response to the changing landscape?
People my parent’s age more open to trying weed both recreationally and medically than I’d thought.
I think I’m most surprised with the limited amount of challenge from the general public. The majority of the challenges seem to be coming from politicians. And even from those camps it is more from a place of opposition to the current parties’ initiatives and not specifically around cannabis use.
That everyone is so supportive of legalization.
I am both disappointed and realistic. Our changing cannabis laws are a major disruptive transformational shift. This kind of change naturally comes with reactive fear. This fear has had space and time to grow and evolve (devolve?) due to lack of timely leadership and direction from the government.
What are dispensaries getting right? Where could they do better?
I think every dispensary I’ve been to hires very knowledgeable staff. But they need to work on their branding. 90% of these places look like their marketing team came straight from an energy drink company. Like, no need for all green everything, we know you’re selling weed! It’s uber cheesy. No one should be allowed to put a stupid weed leaf in a logo; it’s akin to owning a wallet with a chain attached.
Provide a safe space for users to access their cannabis with anonymity. They could still improve by creating more standardized, holistic method of client intake.
I think the best part of dispensaries is the knowledge they offer and consistent pricing. I would like them to improve on quality control, you still don’t really know what you are getting as often they don’t list the source. I would also like more to carry edibles, because of inconsistent labelling on packaging this has been mostly removed from the market.
They are good at displaying, showing, talking about the products. I find stock inconsistent though, not in quality but choice. I believe the supply chain could be improved greatly. Additionally, the brick and mortar locations often have infrastructure issues; computers down, scale not functioning, high turnover of staff.
What advice would you have for brands that are entering the category? What do they need to know?
Keep the green and weed leaves out of the logo! Keep “Canna” out of the name. Don’t come into the market looking like an NFL/NHL/MLB expansion team. Know that customers want a dispensary that is not pretentious and has a lot of quality strains and products. I also think the brand that is focused on safer practices will win. There’s already concern, at least on my part, as to the effects of long-term use, when it comes to the materials used to make smoking devices.
Customers are becoming more educated and knowledgeable. They understand there are various strains with differing benefits and characteristics. They will expect that their provider be even more knowledgeable. Similar to the movement we are seeing with food, people are looking for products that are locally grown, or of known origin, free from pesticides and organically grown.
Differentiate yourself. There are going to be many companies starting pot related businesses, many will fail, as there will be so many companies doing the same thing. Don’t price yourself out of the market. As we’ve seen in Colorado, prices have fallen considerably now that there are many players in the market. By pricing yourself too high you alienate your customers from the onset.
I would love to see more information displayed that explains the products and what experience they typically evoke, not just “helps with anxiety, depression, fatigue, appetite stimulation” as that’s too high level. I need that information but then also more detail on the experience. I don’t always want to talk to someone for information. It’s great I can and they’re knowledgeable, but it means my level of information depends on who I speak to, what mood they are in, how busy the place is.
I am a marketer’s dream! I am a sucker for cool packaging, bundled “deals” etc. If I was launching a product, it would be directed at the newbies- curious, small quantity purchasers. I would create samplers or “flights” – CBD, Hybrid, Indica, Sativa and a mix. This is a perfect idea for someone who wants to try the different types to see what works for them.
What advice would you have for new users?
Start with grams of Sativa strains. Then move on to Indicas, extracts and edibles. No need to go from 0 to 100 that quick!
Ask any and all the questions and do some research. There are a number of books on the subject from a number of different perspectives: anecdotal, scientific and medical.
Start slowly and try different types, eventually you will find something you like
Start small. You can always smoke more. Be in a comfortable, safe environment with a friend until you know your own physical and mental relationship with weed. Over time try Indica, Sativa, Hybrids, CBD etc. to find out what fits. Not to worry if you don’t like it, you have not been risky trying it. Have fun!