A Perfect Storm

Patricia Erickson croppedProfessor Pat Erickson’s research was recently highlighted in an in-depth article in the Varsity Magazine discussing marijuana regulation in Canada. Professor Erickson is a retired senior scientist at CAMH and a Professor (status-only) at the Department of Sociology and the Centre for Crime and Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Toronto. Her research interests include illicit drug use and drug policy; youth, violence, mental health and addictions. The Varsity article discusses Professor Erickson’s research into the cultural acceptance of cannabis.

A Perfect Storm: Marijuana regulation is on the horizon

By Teodora Pasca   April 1, 2016

It only takes a brief walk around campus to realize how thoroughly marijuana has worked its way into university life. Flyers that advertise cannabis culture events are stapled to soft boards, vaporizers peek out of pockets and backpacks, and the unmistakable smell of pot smoke seeps from alleyways and the windows of fraternities.

Further west into Kensington Market, the air thickens with marijuana smoke; dispensaries and head shops line the crowded streets. Beyond Kensington, cannabis culture shops continue to populate Yonge Street, Bloor Street, and Queen Street West.

The pervasiveness of marijuana use throughout the city is a perfect example of how Canadian criminal law — which prohibits recreational cannabis use — is not always sufficient to stamp out the behaviours it inhibits. Yet, a storm is brewing within the hallowed halls of Parliament: a brand new cannabis regulation system may on the horizon.

When the Liberal Party of Canada pledged to legalize marijuana during their 2015 election campaign, many welcomed the idea. Now after taking office, the Liberal government seems intent upon keeping its word.

The government has stated it will “legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana,” and it has appointed Honorable Bill Blair, Liberal Member of Parliament and former Toronto Chief of Police, to spearhead the project.

Support of the masses

Many university students stand in favour of this proposition. “I don’t think it is right that the government can decide what we want to put in or do to our bodies,” explains Serena*, a third-year student at Innis College. “If we are legally allowed to poison ourselves with alcohol and cigarettes, then I think it should be [okay] for us to be able to have a toke or two on a Saturday night.”

“I absolutely believe marijuana should be legalized,” agrees Jenny*, a second-year student at Ryerson University. “It has been proven to improve a growing list of mental illnesses and physical ailments; it allows for many to ‘cope’ with the reality inherited from a corrupt, and otherwise socially unjust society; and it expands the mind to a point of untapped potential.”

These attitudes coincide with a recorded growth of acceptance and tolerance for cannabis use in Canada. An estimated 43 per cent of Canadians over the age of 15 have tried cannabis at least once in their lifetime, and a November 2015 poll revealed that 59 per cent of Canadians support its legalization, regulation, and taxation.

Dr. Patricia Erickson, professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Toronto and scientist emerita in public health and regulatory policy at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), has recently been tracing marijuana use in Canada. She states that the trend toward tolerance of cannabis has been called a ‘phenomenon of normalization’ — not only because of its prevalence but also due to an increased cultural tolerance among non-users for the activity.

“[There is] more willingness to see it as an activity that doesn’t necessarily go with being a deviant or being involved in other types of illegal activities,” Erickson explains. She emphasizes that normalization is restricted to cannabis use that does not interfere with regular activities, which means that ‘stoners’ or chronic users may still be looked down upon by their peers…(read the full article here).