Northern Ontario Marijuana users 'coming out of the closet' with legalization

It is now legal to smoke, consume and carry marijuana in Canada. It's a big change for some in northern Ontario, and not so much for others.

Sudbury police officers adjusting to new "complex" regulations for marijuana

For hundreds of people in northern Ontario who have used it for decades, the legalization of marijuana won't change much other than removing the spectre of getting arrested. (CBC)

Tom Reid smoked marijuana in his Sudbury home on Tuesday when it was against the law and he will do it again today when it's legal. 

"It's like coming out of the closet," he says. 

"Canada just came out of the closet folks. To the world."

Reid says he first tried marijuana as a kid in the 1960s, but has used it daily for the last 20 years or so and more since he retired.

He's hopeful that the legalization of cannabis will lift the decades-old stigma that hangs over those who enjoy it.

"Let's get serious about it and accept it," says Reid, a former Sudbury chef and restaurateur. 

Tom Reid, David Sylvestre and John Borowski of Sudbury all used marijuana when it was illegal and aren't sure how the change in law will change their habits. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

John Borowski says he first smoked marijuana when he was 12, before he tried alcohol.

The 35-year-old says he has continued to smoke it casually, but never feared he might get caught.

"I almost felt there was an understanding that if you go and be harmless somewhere that no one's going to pester you. I know I didn't pester anyone else," says Borowski, who works for Launchpad Creative in downtown Sudbury.

He says he didn't hide his daily habit in the past and doesn't think he'll flaunt it now that he can do it in public.

"Even now that it's legal, I don't know if I want to be in the street, smoking a joint to be honest," says Borowski.

He isn't sure if he is going to start buying from legitimate retailers instead of his dealer, but warns that if government weed—right now only available through the Ontario Cannabis Store website— is too expensive, the whole experiment won't work.

"My biggest concerns are that the government stays competitive with the black market. If they want my business, they're going to have to keep it at 10 dollars a gram," says Borowski.

The change in marijuana law is a big change for police officers, who have to be familiar with the new complex regulations, including for drug impaired driving.

David Sylvestre of Sudbury stopped taking medicinal marijuana when he was convicted and sentenced to 10 months house arrest in 2012 for growing dozens of plants on his farm in St. Charles.

He says he would like to start drinking juiced cannabis leaves again to maintain his health, but says the new law is too restrictive.

"I think that there's more ways we can get entrapped in the law. Because they've created a legality with strict limits and serious consequences," says Sylvestre.

It's a big change for police officers, who today, can only charge someone smoking pot on the street if they have more than 30 grams or have more than four plants in their house.

There is also no limit on how much dried cannabis you can have in your home. 

Sudbury police officers have been going through intensive training to be familiar with the new law.  

"When one day something's illegal and the next day something's legal, just ensuring that you're confident," says Sudbury police sergeant Robin Marcotte. 

He says drivers impaired by cannabis will be monitored by officers with special training to recognize someone under the influence of marijuana, but so far there are only three in Greater Sudbury. 

Marcotte says the regulations for legal pot are frequently changing and he says one of the next big changes will come in the spring when retail stores open in Ontario. 

About the Author

Erik White


Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to


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