Change already in the air around marijuana use in Calgary

The federal government plans to introduce legislation in 2017 to legalize marijuana, but some users aren’t waiting that long before lighting up in public.

Calgary Eyeopener to take a week-long look at potential impacts of legalization

Calgary Eyeopener's Judy Aldous talked to some marijuana users who say they don't worry about lighting up in public. (Ben Nelms/Reuters)

The federal government plans to introduce legislation in 2017 to legalize marijuana, but some users aren't waiting that long before lighting up in public.

Change is already in the air, so to speak.

As part of a week-long series looking at the potential impacts of legalization, the Calgary Eyeopener's Judy Aldous talked to users who say they already light up freely in public without fear of police repercussion.

"It used to be that marijuana was like the smell track for concerts at the Saddledome and other venues, but now the smell of it just wafts through all parts of the city, from underneath trees in city parks and out of that parked car window just down the street," Aldous told host David Gray.

"In fact, I think if you did a blind smell test, a vast majority of Calgarians of all ages could identify that distinct, skunky odour, because people just aren't hiding it anymore."

Aldous talked to a number of self-admitted marijuana users between the ages of 18 and 23, who said they regularly get whiffs while travelling around the city.

"Any neighbourhood you drive through, most of the time at night you can smell it, definitely downtown," said one man who didn't want to give his name.

"I usually smell it on the [C-Train]," said another woman.

"Especially at night."

Ryan Talai, 23, is a masters student in biomedical engineering at the University of Calgary and said reefer is rather ubiquitous among young people.

"Once or twice a week … at a friend's house, at my house, everybody smokes, everybody I know at least," he said on how often he lights up.

"I've done it in a park before."

But not everyone is in favour of smoking in public before marijuana is legalized.

Marijuana activist Keith Fagin says smoking marijuana in public hurts efforts to legalize the drug. (Judy Aldous/CBC)

Longtime activist Keith Fagin has used marijuana for 40 years but said he only does it in private and those who flout its use in public are actually hurting the cause.

"We're not getting different results by smoking [outside]," he said.

"People are ignoring us, 'Oh they're dirty old hippies who just want to get high,' and it's so easy to ignore us and brush us off in that sense."

Fagin said he wants to see marijuana controlled much like alcohol and only used in designated, private spaces.

Medicine Hat police Chief Andy McGrogan, who speaks for the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police on the matter, said officers will still enforce the law as long as it's on the books.

"We're telling folks, it's business as usual until the federal government tells us otherwise," he said.

McGrogan added he has some concerns about legalization, including how it will be kept out of the hands of children, how driving will be enforced and whether its use will be allowed in public, which will be addressed in a report being presented at the annual AACP meeting in November.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener