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CORNER BROOK, N.L. - Legalization of marijuana is not just about a changing of the law, it’s about changing attitudes.
“The day-to-day difference from Oct. 16 to Oct. 18, it probably isn’t going to seem that dramatic,” said Paul Seaborn. “But over time it really forces everyone, whether they’re a young adult, or a parent, or a doctor, or an employer, to kind of rethink their attitude toward cannabis. And that just takes a while because it’s had such a stigma for many decades.”
Originally from Corner Brook, N.L., Seaborn has become an expert in cannabis and teaches a course on the business of marijuana at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business in Denver, Colorado.
He moved to the state — one of nine where the recreational use of marijuana is legal — after completing his PhD in strategic management at the University of Toronto in 2011.
At that point, Seaborn said, he was probably less knowledgeable than pretty well anyone about marijuana.
But timing is everything.
“That was just when the legal market was really taking off in Colorado and you had businesses opening and all sorts of new things happening.”
The vote to legalize recreational marijuana was in November 2012 and the law went into effect January 2014.
Seaborn’s teaching and research has always focused on business and government issues, regulation and lobbying.
It makes sense then that Seaborn is following what’s now happening in his home country.
He said when he first started teaching the business of marijuana course a year and half ago, Canada came up quite a lot.
Once legalization does occur, Seaborn can see many of the things he’s found studying marijuana in Colorado carrying over to Canada.
“I think it may be a surprise how little day-to-day life changes as people walk down West Street (in Corner Brook) or go to the grocery store.”
While hard to imagine seeing dispensaries the next time he comes home, he said in Denver they have simply become part of the landscape. Little is perceived to have changed.
“Gradually people’s attitudes and understanding are really being shaped and they’re rethinking how they view cannabis versus alcohol or other things that they really take for granted.”
In a sign of acceptance, university students and alumni are taking jobs in the industry. Despite other employment options, they see it as a legitimate and very exciting opportunity.
On the other hand, Seaborn doesn’t think any U.S. states have really figured out the social concept of cannabis.
“That’s one of the things that really has delayed the full acceptance.”
When it was legalized in Colorado, people couldn’t consume it in public, in a hotel room, a bar or a restaurant. Seaborn said research has shown it’s most common for people to consume cannabis by themselves, at home.
“That’s maybe not the image that people have of sort of a big cloud of smoke covering downtown.”
A big surprise in Colorado under legalization was the popularity of the edible forms of cannabis.
“I think part of it is that smoking in general is not something that most people prefer to do. And then, secondly, when it’s not legal to do openly in public those other options are a little bit more discreet.”
It could be a year before those forms of cannabis will be legally sold in Canada.
He expects over time Canada will fall to the same conclusion Colorado did — that edible forms for social use are actually just a very useful practical approach.
In terms of social concerns, Seaborn said the two big ones are how legalization affects youth and the complicated issues with impaired driving.
He said there is concern legalization will mean youth will use marijuana more frequently.
In fact, he said, in some cases it’s the opposite since it’s now more commonplace for people’s parents to use, for medical reasons.
Still, he said, parents have to be vigilant on where they store their marijuana.
As for impaired driving, Seaborn said that has generated new discussions. It’s not the same as alcohol and the body doesn’t absorb and process the two in the same way.
“Legalization is really a chance to bring that into the open and figure that out.”
Is Canada ready?
Seaborn thinks the time is right for Canada and there is the advantage of learning from others who have done so before them.
And having legalization as a national program, and not state-by-state as in the U.S., has many advantages.
Diane Crocker is a journalist with The Western Star in Corner Brook, N.L.