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From pop culture to pot culture: Atlantic Canadian cannabis conversation conversion

Annie MacEachern of Charlottetown, P.E.I., who consumes cannabis for medicinal purposes, says legalization of the drug is just the beginning. She says advocates need to continue pushing to get edibles and concentrates on the market.
Annie MacEachern of Charlottetown, P.E.I., who consumes cannabis for medicinal purposes, says legalization of the drug is just the beginning. She says advocates need to continue pushing to get edibles and concentrates on the market. - Mitch MacDonald

With legalization Oct. 17, will what was once considered a taboo subject will now be commonplace?

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - It’s not the taboo subject it once was in pop culture.

The sale of cannabis will become legal for those 19 and over across Canada on Oct. 17 and the conversation surrounding the drug has been shifting over the past few years. That changing dialogue can be heard throughout the east coast.

Allison Wolvers, assistant manager at Wild Impulse in Charlottetown, P.E.I., which carries a wide selection of smoking essentials, said there is much more acceptance and a lot less stigma now.

In fact, Canada’s smallest province is building a store that will sell cannabis just a few doors down from Wild Impulse.

“People aren’t so secretive about it anymore,” Wolvers said. “It’s not just the potheads coming in. We get soccer moms coming in. We get men with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) coming in to talk about stuff. It’s a lot more education and people are a lot more open these days, and that’s even before it’s becoming legal.”

Wild Impulse looks to capitalize on the legalization of cannabis, offering a number of sales and discounts on their products in the leadup to Oct. 17.

“I would say the stigma is wearing off and there’s a lot more people who are more comfortable coming into the store,” Wolvers said. “Before I would never get just a run-of-the-mill mom coming in and asking about vaporizers. People are now actually coming in for information and to get educated.”

Jeannette Affleck, manager of Wild Impulse in Charlottetown, P.E.I., which carries a wide selection of smoking essentials, said the conversation around cannabis has changed over the last few years. What was once considered a taboo subject in the mainstream is now becoming more pop culture. - Dave Stewart
Jeannette Affleck, manager of Wild Impulse in Charlottetown, P.E.I., which carries a wide selection of smoking essentials, said the conversation around cannabis has changed over the last few years. What was once considered a taboo subject in the mainstream is now becoming more pop culture. - Dave Stewart

But Brad Smith, an employee at Mary Jane’s Smoke Shop in Halifax, N.S., said there is a misconception that Oct. 17 means a lot more people are going to start consuming cannabis.

“We’re not seeing an influx of people who are saying we’re going to start smoking,” Smith said, noting where they are seeing an increase is with people considering cannabis as a medicinal option to doctor-prescribed pills.

“I think you’re seeing so many soccer moms and older people... they’re coming in and they’re looking for vaporizers and technology for vaping that their doctors are recommending. (We’re) definitely seeing an increase in that.’’

Mary Jane’s Smoke Shop in St. John’s, N.L., declined an interview.

But mayors in that province are conversing on cannabis.

Their recent municipalities convention included a lunch with Aurora cannabis, a licensed producer.

Lewisporte, N.L., Mayor Betty Clarke hopes the health and safety risks of the illegal market will be lessened.

"Rumour has it that marijuana on the black market can be laced with unknown substances, so I think legalizing cannabis will better protect people," she told SaltWire Network.

“I think this is just kind of round one. We’re going to see it rev up." Annie MacEachern, Charlottetown

Back in P.E.I., 30-year-old Annie MacEachern of Charlottetown started out consuming cannabis recreationally when she was 18 but felt it was benefiting her in other ways.

“I quickly kind of started realizing that it was helping with the digestive issues that I was experiencing so I was self-medicating for probably about 10 years before I pursued my medical cannabis prescription,” MacEachern said. “I’ve been a medical patient for about a year.”

MacEachern is now a cannabis advocate. She was recently nominated cannabis crusader for the Canadian Cannabis Awards.

MacEachern wasn’t surprised when she heard the drug was being legalized.

“I think this is just kind of round one. We’re going to see it rev up. We’re not going to see edibles or concentrates, two of the, maybe, healthier alternatives to combustion. We’re not going to see those hit the shelves until 2019. So, while Oct. 17 is a really great first step, we’re not done and so many advocates have so much more work to do.”

MacEachern hopes legalization means less stigma and more education around consumption of cannabis.

“With alcohol we’ve seen a culture of binge drinking, of over consumption, we’ve glorified nights of blacking out and that is dangerous behaviour. I really don’t want to see the cannabis industry go that way. I want to see a move of mindful and moderate consumption.’’

Craig Gaudet, 49, of Summerside, P.E.I., agrees. He was a recreational user for years and now uses it medicinally.

“I’d sooner see a bunch of guys smoking a joint than drinking a bottle of rum,” Gaudet said.

“I do see (legalization) as a step forward in the fact that it is being legalized and it’s going to be more socially acceptable that way. A lot more people who want to try it and want to use it for medical reasons are going to be able to get a lot more easy access to it. I see it replacing things like Aspirin and low-dose anti-inflammatories and stuff like that that you buy over the counter.”

“People aren’t so secretive about it anymore. It’s not just the potheads coming in. We get soccer moms coming in. We get men with PTSD coming in to talk about stuff. It’s a lot more education and people are a lot more open these days and that’s even before it’s becoming legal.’’ 

– Allison Wolvers, assistant manager of Wild Impulse in Charlottetown, P.E.I. 

Gary Lippman, 52, of Charlottetown, P.E.I., said he comes from a home where the mere subject of cannabis when he was young was taboo. Now, he’s fine with talking about it openly.

He’s a current recreational user who is trying to become a medicinal user.

“I started smoking as a kid when I was 17, maybe younger than that,” Lippman said.

Then Lippman spent 22 years in the U.S. Army.

“I went 22 years without (cannabis), and through the course of work and travel, I developed difficulties with age and pain and suffering and some form of PTSD.’’

Asked if cannabis will help, Lippman answers absolutely.

“My anxiety level is going to drop easily.’’

However, through his experience using cannabis over the years, Lippman has found a variety of strains that result in a variety of different effects. He feels there needs to be more education, especially for first-time users.

“Something needs to be done... So many first-time users have bad experiences through lack of experience. I was completely uneducated about it.’’

Dave Stewart is a journalist with The Guardian in Charlottetown.

dave.stewart@theguardian.pe.ca

Read the full report:  CLEARING THE AIR: Taking Atlantic Canada's pot pulse

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