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Cape Breton life much the same one year after cannabis legalization

Renowned Cape Breton fiddler Ashley MacIsaac overnighted in the parking lot of the Sydney River NSLC store to ensure he was the first person on the island to purchase legal cannabis as shown in this file photo from Oct. 17, 2018.
Renowned Cape Breton fiddler Ashley MacIsaac overnighted in the parking lot of the Sydney River NSLC store to ensure he was the first person on the island to purchase legal cannabis as shown in this file photo from Oct. 17, 2018. - SaltWire File Photo

Much like the Y2K computer bug scare that amounted to little when digital calendars hit the year 2000, it appears the first year of legal recreational cannabis has not led to the realization of the worst fears of those opposed to the controversial legislation.

One year ago, on the day pot became legal in Canada, renowned Cape Breton fiddler Ashley MacIsaac became the local face of the pro-cannabis movement when he overnighted in the parking lot of the NSLC’s Sydney River "signature" store, the island’s only legal marijuana retail outlet, so he could be the first in line to purchase legal weed.

The lineup behind MacIsaac on that day was long and didn’t move fast, but those in the queue were in a celebratory mood and didn’t seem to mind.

The world watched and waited to see if Canada would become a nation of dopey-eyed zombies, moving dazedly around in a perpetual cloud of marijuana smoke.

A year has passed and the aforementioned scenario has failed to materialize.

In fact, a survey of some of the key players dealing with the consequences of cannabis legalization confirm that the substance’s negative impacts are less than what many people expected.

Robert Walsh
Robert Walsh

Cape Breton Regional Police Service Deputy Chief Robert Walsh says that while there has been no significant increase in cannabis-impaired driving arrests, officers remain vigilant in their efforts to keep all impaired drivers off the road. Walsh further noted that while recreational cannabis can be purchased at an approved retailer, it remains illegal to buy black market marijuana.

“It’s still a crime,” he said. “Our drug section continues to enforce the law with people who are growing and distributing cannabis illegally.”

Walsh wouldn’t reveal details of the force’s street-level policing, but he did admit that the department has not experienced a “significant spike” in cannabis-related calls.

On the cannabis-overdose front, Doctors Nova Scotia past president Dr. Tim Holland acknowledged that emergency rooms across the province did experience an increase in patients seeking help after consuming too much marijuana.

Dr. Tim Holland
Dr. Tim Holland

“But that has since gone back to pre-legalization levels,” said Holland, who added that the positive aspect of legal weed is that patients are now more willing to disclose their pot use, thus making it easier for physicians in their diagnosis.

“It’s still too early to see what the impacts will be because we are still so close to the time of legalization — we’ll probably know a bit more as to what the overall use looks like in about four years.”

Prior to legalization, Holland was among the physicians who warned of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, also known as “green flu” because of its pronounced symptoms of vomiting and nausea.

Like Holland, Cape Breton physician Dr. Chris Milburn has also come across the occasional case of the “green flu”, which he attributes to longtime chronic cannabis use.

Dr. Chris Milburn
Dr. Chris Milburn

While warning adults to make responsible choices when it comes to pot consumption, the emergency room doctor doesn’t mince words when it comes to the dangerous effect that cannabis can have on developing young minds.

“There is now very good evidence that youth who smoke weed chronically end up with lower IQs as adults and are significantly more likely to develop psychotic disorders like schizophrenia,” said Milburn, who served on a Canadian Medical Association/Health Canada joint committee on medical marijuana.

He said the potential negative effects are even more dire when one considers that today’s marijuana is much stronger than it was in the emerging days of pot culture in the 1960s and 1970s.

But it’s not the strength of the marijuana that concerns those working in the addictions field. According to Tom Blanchard, executive director of Talbot House, a rural Cape Breton facility that serves men and guides their addiction, recovery and rehabilitation, cannabis is a drug that should not be readily available.

“We believe a drug is a drug is a drug,” said Blanchard. “We still believe that cannabis is a gateway drug and that it’s highly addictive, and we still believe it can cause mental health issues for youth, that is people between 14 to 21, and that it has relapse potential for our clients if they go back to smoking it recreationally.”

Both Blanchard and Talbot House clinical therapist Dale Sharkey are particularly concerned about how cannabis is portrayed as being less harmful than other drugs, especially alcohol.

“It’s the same, it’s a drug that you take and you can become addicted to either one and either one can have negative consequences,” said Sharkey.

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual at the Sydney River liquor and cannabis store. There’s no lineup today. There likely won’t be one tomorrow. Instead, the occasional person walks out of the store with a bag far too small for a bottle of wine or spirits. Nobody looks twice.

After all, pot is now legal.


Cape Breton man not nuts over near purchase at Sydney River NSLC

Edible cannabis, extracts and topicals legal in October

Cannabis still a hot purchase across the province, including in Cape Breton

Cannabis day arrives in Cape Breton

Opening day for legal pot on its way in Cape Breton

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