Cannabis Culture

By: Corey D’Souza
Photo courtesy Apollo

Marijuana. Weed. Reefer. Sticky-icky. The green stuff has had us talking for years, and it’s still sitting in the grey area – as far as laws and politics go.

Last January, the Liberal Party of Canada held a three-day bi-annual convention in Ottawa. It came after an embarrassing showing in the May 2011 elections that reduced the venerable party to third place in the House of Commons. The federal Liberals took time to elect a new party president (not to be confused with its party’s leader), and changed certain party policies.

The one policy that caught my eye and the eye of the mainstream media was a new positive stance on the legalization of marijuana. And it was not something they tried to conceal. Standing in front of a crowded room in Ottawa, interim Liberal leader Bob Rae declared “Let’s face up to it, Canada – the war on drugs has been a complete bust.” Rae received a standing ovation.

Have the Liberals finally discovered that the political future belongs to the party that understands they have to draw more Canadians into the electorate?
Considering how popular marijuana is in Toronto – especially among young people – I couldn’t help but think this could be it.

It might be the issue that young Torontonians can collectively rally behind, perhaps sparking their interest in the political process.

To find out, I visited Vapor Central. Located on Yonge St., just south of Bloor St., Vapor Central is considered a “vapour lounge,” a place where people can gather indoors and smoke marijuana legally. The mere existence of such an establishment, and four other similar outlets in the city, says something about the impact marijuana has on Toronto.

Vapor Central is on the second floor of a building located between a Payless shoe store and Noah’s Natural Foods.

I walked up a thin, dimly lit staircase. As I got to the top of the stairs, I smelled marijuana. The faint aroma from the stairway culminated in an overwhelming burst of strong ganja odour.

A thick cloud of smoke floated several feet above my head, making some parts of the ceiling hard to see.

I found three young men seated in the corner of the room. They were talking, laughing and trading bong hits. What I thought would be a quick interview with Shane 22, Rob, 21, and Alex, 24, ended up being a deeply articulate and enjoyable conversation about politics.

When I mentioned the Liberals’ new stance on marijuana, Alex jumped in right away.

“It would get complicated. It’s not that easy,” he explained. “You don’t just snap your fingers and weed is legal. What about smoking in public places? On restaurant balconies? Can I grow it? Can I drive while being high?”

All I could say was that I didn’t know. However, he noted that the possible platform (marijuana legalization), change is moving in the right direction.

“With regulation and taxation, weed will become as expensive as beer,” Shane interrupted. “Governments should realize how much money can be made.”

I looked over at Rob. He was staring up at the cloud of smoke under the ceiling, feet on the table, leaning back on his chair, long blond hair partially covering his eyes.

I asked Alex and Shane if this platform on its own could get young people out to vote.

“There’s no face to it, nothing to attract the kids,” Alex says. “We need a persona, a character. People want genuine, people want honesty, and Jack Layton wasn’t even that guy. Our politicians are too old.”

“Look what Obama did in the States, rallying so many people, including youth,” Shane retorted. “There’s no face in Canadian politics, nothing young people can identify with.”

There I was, in one of the most weed-friendly spots in Toronto, and two young, high adults, were telling me the legalization of marijuana is not as important as the face that represents it.

I began thinking it might not be about the issue of marijuana legalization, but about how it’s sold to the public.

Who will be the face of marijuana in the Liberal Party? Will their stand in favour of legalizing marijuana – as a valid social issue – be strong enough to convince young people to vote?

“Do me a favour, guys,” I declared. “Take a look around this room. Let’s say there are exactly 100 people in here right now. How many of these people, if they have never voted before, will vote in the next election if they have the ability to legalize marijuana?”

All three looked at the people surrounding them. “Sixty,” Shane, the first person to speak, said. “Sixty-five,” Alex said, chiming in a few seconds after.

As I was about to respond, Rob, for the first time in the entire conversation, blurted out, “35.”

I looked at him feeling slightly shocked that he decided to participate in the discussion. He spoke in broken sentences.

“Voting isn’t on the Internet, we’re not motivated, we’re just lazy,” he said. “It wouldn’t inspire or motivate everyone who wanted change. It’s not enough . . . the youth vote is so bad, people don’t care, not much will happen.”

Whether he knew it or not, Rob came the closest to pointing out the average number of young people (aged 18 to 24), who voted in the 2008 election. I informed them of that number: 38 (37.4 per cent).

Alex nodded after Rob’s statement and said, “It’s one thing to like the laws, and say I’m going to vote, but its another thing to get up, actually head down to the voting station and make that vote.”

After our discussion, I asked them a final question: “What about you guys? I sense you are all marijuana enthusiasts. Will you vote for the Liberals in the next election, if they say they will legalize marijuana?”

Alex and Shane took a few seconds to think, while Rob immediately shrugged.

“I don’t know,” says Alex. “It really depends on more than just the legalization. I need to know what will actually change before I make my decision.”

Shane agreed. “Nothing much changes, or there are very subtle changes. There’s always more bickering in the House of Commons than there is progress.”

We might be a few years away from the next federal election, but the youth response will be interesting. If young Canadians – more specifically, young Torontonians – cannot get behind marijuana legalization as an important social issue, what willit take?

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