Pot-smoking young men had the most to say to Ottawa about marijuana legalization

Canada's task force on marijuana legalization has heard a lot from one particular demographic about how to proceed: young men who smoke pot.

Men, people aged 18-34 and cannabis users were the most common respondents to recent online consultations

The majority of people who have responded to the federal government's consultation on marijuana legalization are men, mostly between the ages of 18 and 34. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

When it comes to crafting Canada's plans to legalize marijuana, there's one group that seems to have a lot to say: young men who use pot.

That's who responded to the government's online consultation in droves, according to the vice-chair of Canada's marijuana task force, Dr. Mark Ware.

He broke down the numbers as part of his talk at the Vancouver Lift Cannabis Expo earlier this month, noting that particularly when it comes to age, the response was "interesting because this is not typically a group that is heavily engaged politically."

The online consultations were held between June 30 and Aug. 29. Ware told his audience there had been some 28,000 responses. Previously, the task force had pegged the number of responses higher — at 30,000.

According to the information provided by Ware:

  • 80 per cent of respondents are cannabis users — either medical or non-medical.
  • 73 per cent are male.
  • 64 per cent are between 18 and 34 years of age.
  • 15 per cent are parents.
  • 11 per cent are academics.
  • 8 per cent self-identified as activists.

The online survey allowed for up to 1,500-word, essay-style answers on a variety of questions, from where pot should be sold to how medical marijuana should work in a world where pot is legal.

A company has been hired to read and classify the barrage of responses, Ware said.

That summary will be just one way the task force is gathering information for its final report to the federal government. Ware said some 500 policy papers from organizations like the Canadian Medical Association have also been submitted. A spokesperson for the task force later clarified that when accounting for duplication, there were only 350 submissions.

Task force members have been travelling the country, conducting roundtable discussions with experts and visiting medical marijuana production facilities, and travelling south to learn from officials in Colorado and Washington, where marijuana is already legal. 

Pot plans

Ware, a professor in family medicine and anesthesia at McGill University who specializes in pain and cannabis, said there were several big questions that the task force continues to wrestle with as it prepares to get its final report to the federal government by the end of November.

Federal officials say the report will be considered as they craft proposed laws to deal with legalized marijuana, which are expected to come before Parliament next spring.

The Liberals are expected to unveil legislation to legalize marijuana by April 2017. (CBC)

Ware said the task force has heard a wide range of opinions, including some extreme positions on both sides of the legalization debate.

​"Remember, we're undoing 100 years of prohibition and these rules, these attitudes, these stigmas have been embedded in our society for a very long time," Ware said. "Going back in and taking this apart and rebuilding something is not trivial, and I think we have to recognize it's not a simple swipe of the pen that can fix all of this.​"

Where to sell it?

One question that Ware was asked repeatedly was the issue of where legalized marijuana should be sold. He talked about a broad range of options, from compassion clubs to liquor stores. 

"I think there's a huge amount of debate about whether cannabis should be available for sale in conjunction with alcohol. We've heard concerns about why that should be a bad idea. We've heard from people suggesting that's actually a good way, because there are already mechanisms for controlling inventory, for tracking inventory, for training staff."

Both Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne have said they like the idea of selling pot in liquor stores. 

Ontario and Quebec are looking at dispensing marijuana through provincially owned liquor stores, like the LCBO. (David Donnelly/CBC)

But B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, who is also a member of the task force, told CBC News back in February that he had concerns about that model, noting the way alcohol is currently sold encourages accessibility and consumption.

Ware also said while his audience was "sophisticated" and "engaged" when it came to questions around marijuana use, it was important to acknowledge that legalizing marijuana would be a radical shift for some Canadians.

"In many parts of this country, that thinking doesn't exist. They are still very new to this idea. You're introducing the idea of bringing in a new substance to communities that don't even have stores. They don't have roads," he said.

"They have huge problems with mental health already, and addictions, and they're struggling to cope with what they have, and some of these — especially the northern communities — very, very difficult situations."

Do the task force members use pot?

One audience member was curious about how well informed task force members are about their subject matter, asking Ware how many were "cannabis virgins". 

The question seemed to amuse the crowd. But Ware said task force members hadn't had that conversation, adding "you can still have a perspective on this issue whether you're a cannabis user or not."


Catherine Cullen

Parliamentary Bureau

Catherine Cullen is a senior reporter covering politics and Parliament Hill in Ottawa.


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