The total normalization of cannabis

The total normalization of cannabis

Editor's Letter: Sarah Fulford
Photograph by Christopher Wahl

On the north side of Harbord Street, just west of U of T, is my neighbourhood’s poshest cannabis dispensary. It’s called CAFE: Cannabis and Fine Edibles, and it fits right in alongside the trendy restaurants, yoga studios and real estate brokerages. The decor is more Lululemon chic than grungy head shop, and the place is always packed. Customers line up to get their pot-infused gummy bears, lollipops and Nanaimo bars. The attentive, informed sales staff take pains to select just the right strain for every patron.

We are in the midst of a massive social revolution: the total normalization of cannabis. And we’re starting to figure out what that new normal will look and feel like. Pot is already everywhere. At night, I have to close my windows, because my next-door neighbour smokes daily in her yard and the smell wafts into my dining room. A friend of mine is starting a new job this month at a pot research firm that’s developing a consumer app to help users identify which strain is best for them. Another friend whipped out her vaporizer on a fancy patio this summer—something I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing even a year ago. And just about everyone I know is talking about investing in marijuana stocks.

How will this change the way we live? We don’t know yet. This month, my 12-year-old starts middle school. His generation is entering adolescence in a world where weed is as commonplace as alcohol. They’ll see grown-ups smoking joints in the open, the way earlier generations watched adults drinking cocktails. I wonder if this will increase their curiosity about pot or diminish it. My gut says it will be the latter, which, as a mother, I find comforting, though I believe a little experimentation is a normal, healthy part of growing up. (My own middle school years were a time of much exploration. It’s when I first got drunk, first tried pot, first kissed a boy. A lot can happen in middle school.)

Worryingly, a little experimentation can be deadly these days. As Lauren McKeon details in “Poison Pill,” the opioid crisis has had a kind of ­trickle-down effect, permeating street drugs of all kinds. She discovered that it’s not uncommon for pills to be casually passed around and consumed at high school parties, and some of those pills now contain fentanyl. As Lauren learned in her reporting, it’s also easier for kids to connect with drug dealers than ever before—via Snapchat or Instagram. She spoke to one kid who admitted to taking pills without knowing where they came from or what they contained. She also interviewed parents who discovered all of this the hardest way imaginable: their kids did a little experimenting and ended up dead. Their stories, which Lauren lays out in her feature, are heartbreaking.

Teenagers are famous for lacking impulse control. Recent research into brain development confirms what parents have known for generations: that the brain’s ability to self-regulate, to make rational decisions, develops slowly and is often no match for a teenager’s willingness to take risks. That’s always made teens vulnerable. But now the stakes are higher: kids aged 15 to 24 account for the greatest rise in opioid-related hospitalizations in Ontario. The challenge for parents is to encourage their kids to explore the world and test their limits while somehow helping them avoid life-threatening danger. That’s a hard thing for a kid to pull off—and a very hard thing for a parent to watch. No wonder people are lighting up every chance they get.

Sarah Fulford is the editor of Toronto Life. She can be found on Twitter @sarah_fulford.