Michael's essay: The media have gone gaga over the legalization of pot

“We media hacks love countdowns, whether it’s the early minutes of a NASA launch or the dying seconds of a hockey game. But I have to say that in the countdown to legalization, my confreres were in the grip of some kind of journalistic reefer madness.”
Staff work in a marijuana grow room at Canopy Growths Tweed facility in Smiths Falls, Ontario. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)
Listen4:31

Dawn broke cloudy and cool, about 10 degrees, in St. John's, Newfoundland​ on Wednesday. The city was about to become more famous and fabled than it already was.

Halfway across the country in the sleepy Eastern Ontario town of Smith Falls, population 8,800, the early morning was sunny with a temperature of a brisk eight degrees.

What the two centres have in common, perhaps the only thing they will ever have in common, is cannabis.

On Weed Wednesday, there were lineups in early morning St. John's with folks who were the first Canadians to buy legal marijuana.

And the good burghers of Smiths Falls awoke to find themselves on the cusp of a billion dollar industry which could prove to be the town's revival and survival.

Unless you've been living in a grass hut on some South Pacific Island, you will know that on Wednesday, Canada became the second country in the world to legalize recreational marijuana.

Uruguay being the first, which explains why you never hear anything about Uruguay.

Wednesday was the pot heard round the world. It was huge news in the great capitals of Europe and Asia. Canada was on everybody's map and mind.

By the end of the week, stores were running out of product and were reassured by Ottawa that shortages were fleeting.

Domestic journals pulled out all the stops. My hometown organs went ballistic or viral, take your pick. The Globe and Mail gave the Wednesday news nine pages, The Toronto Star eight. Radio and television broadcast wall to wall coverage of every minute, every puff of Weed Wednesday.

Where you can smoke, who can smoke; what about off-duty cops? What about money managers or airplane mechanics or archbishops or cheese makers?- Michael Enright

The stories touched all the bases — the economic aspects, the various legalities, the health risks and benefits, the dawning of a new culture, you might say, a growing culture.

What about the black market, the online market, the stock market?

Where's the money coming from? Where's it going? 

Where you can smoke, who can smoke. What about off-duty cops? What about money managers or airplane mechanics or archbishops or cheese makers? It was all grist for the marijuana mill.

(An aside: does anybody ever call it Mary Jane or Ganja or Blaze anymore or are these names found only in the deep recesses of Fogyville?)

In the past ten days or so it became the most oversold, overtold story in recent memory.- Michael Enright

We media hacks love countdowns, whether it's the early minutes of a NASA launch or the dying seconds of a hockey game.

But I have to say that in the countdown to legalization, my confreres were in the grip of some kind of journalistic reefer madness.

In the past ten days or so it became the most oversold, over-told story in recent memory. Close friends would phone and beg a surcease in the coverage.

"I just don't care to read or hear anything more about it," a young friend told me.

Where have I heard all this before, I wondered? Then it came back to me. Y2K. Y2K and the end of the world.

How could we forget that in 1999, as we approached the new millennium, people started to worry about what would happen to our computerized society when the clock ticked past midnight.

Apparently the world's computers, in clicking to 00, would not be able to tell if it was 1900 or 2000.

In the walkup to New Year's, the stories got more frightening by the hour. Planes could fall from the sky. Elevators in skyscrapers would plunge to the ground.

Worldwide, computers we all depend on would malfunction. We would have to go days without heat or running water.

Want to take a walk through memory lane? Here are two Y2K stories from CBC News, one from before the millennium and one from after:

At the appointed hour, nothing happened. Nothing fell to earth. Computers functioned well as we moved into the 21st century. Nobody panicked.

Though many questions remain unanswered, something similar will happen with cannabis.

Once the initial novelty wears off, Canadians, whose greatest talent is adaptability, will settle into a casual comfort zone, smiling at the wonder of it all.

Click 'listen' above to hear Michael's essay. 

For those who still have an appetite for more on how cannabis legalization will affect our lives, read stories from CBC Radio and articles from CBC News.

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