Ottawa

Green light: More adults, teens expected to try pot now that it's legal

As many Canadians light up legally for the first time today, some remain hazy about what the future of cannabis will look like here in Ottawa. For a significant number, legalization is the green light they were waiting for.

Health officials expecting 13% rise in number of active marijuana smokers

It is legal to buy cannabis online and smoke it today in Ontario, but many restrictions still apply. (CBC)

As many Canadians light up legally for the first time today, some remain hazy about what the future of cannabis will look like here in Ottawa.

For a significant number, however, legalization is the green light they were waiting for.

Based on an EKOS poll of Ottawa residents, Ottawa Public Health is anticipating a 13 per cent rise in the number of adults who haven't smoked pot in the last year, but are now at least moderately likely to try it now that it's legal. The same holds true for high school students.

People aren't worried about getting caught or going away for it or getting charged for it.- Brandon Morin, 18

"People aren't worried about getting caught or going away for it or getting charged for it," said 18-year-old Brandon Morin.

Morin said he and his friends still aren't interested, and he's not expecting that to change.

For Sunmi Jang, it's a strange new world. Jang, who has a two-year-old son, lives in Ottawa but grew up in South Korea, where she said people are routinely jailed for simple possession.

"It is really beyond my imagination," Jang said. "If the government is making this legal then they also have to educate the children about how it affects your life."

One of the first LCBO stores to open in Ottawa after prohibition was repealed in 1927. Will marijuana use someday seem just as normal? (The Liquor Control Board of Ontario)

Stigma remains

Whatever messaging public health authorities decide on could have a major effect on how we feel about the drug moving forward, according to Andy Hathaway, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Guelph.

"I expect we'll see quite stringent guidelines in terms of what counts as moderate and acceptable use," said Hathaway, who's been studying cannabis culture since the early 1990s. "I think it will be quite narrowly circumscribed."

He noted that while the intoxicating effects of cannabis are often compared to alcohol, regulations more closely mimic those surrounding cigarette smoking, which is highly stigmatized.

Like tobacco, marijuana can only be smoked in certain areas, even though it's now legal.

Hathaway, a self-confessed pot smoker, noted that in the Netherlands, where personal cannabis use was decriminalized in the 1970s, smoking up is seen as a low-class activity, he said.

"I think there will continue to be a stigma around it," he said.

As with alcohol and cigarettes, Ottawa resident Steve Milz believes people will learn to make their own choices.

As a child of the 60s and 70s, Milz said he's been there and done that when it comes to weed.

"Society will eventually adjust," Milz said.

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