Howard Levitt: Legal weed won’t eliminate pot stigma: Experts
The late, great George Carlin apparently once joked that the 1960s-era crackdown on the business man’s “three-martini lunch” shouldn’t affect the working stiff’s “two-joint coffee break.”
But will the latter be frowned upon in the workplace if pot becomes legal — as expected — in Canada later this year?’
“There is stigma that still exists,” says leading Canadian cannabis activist Jodie Emery.
“Now it depends though, of course, where you work. In a modern city like Toronto or Vancouver, you could probably have more progressive attitudes towards that in workplaces but definitely in smaller towns and more conservative jurisdictions, you would have push back.”
Added Toronto employment lawyer Howard Levitt: “Drinking is socially acceptable even to those who are teetotallers … as long as it’s not to excess.
“But there’s certainly a stigma by many people against people who get stoned or smoke marijuana because it’s somewhat associated with criminality because it has been illegal. And our historic reference was ‘stoners’ and people that are less than entirely socially appropriate.”
Levitt also stressed that court rulings ensure employees who smoke pot will not be subject to random drug testing.
“Random drug testing can never occur unless there’s a demonstrated need — there’s got to be safety sensitive positions,” said Levitt. “So there will not be random drug testing. It’s illegal in Canada based on privacy and violation of the human rights code.”
Another piece of good news, for pot smokers, at least, is that as younger generations move into positions of power, they’ll likely be more open about using weed.
“There’s the hipster, modern, local artisan movement in business and we’ve had a lot of attention from younger entrepreneurs coming up with new ideas, disruptors and innovators, so that goes right hand in hand with cannabis,” said Emery.
“In fact, for many companies, they want to be hip and say, ‘Yeah, of course we’re on board with it.’”
Levitt, for his part, isn’t so convinced.
“I don’t know that in any short order, in any event, that there’s going to be real acceptance by the broad public of marijuana use,” he insisted.
“It has a view of slightly unsavoury — perhaps that’s the best way to put it — that drinking doesn’t have. It always has been. So is our social attitude suddenly going to change because (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau has said it’s legal? I don’t think so.”
Three major concerns police have about legal weed:
Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin, who is the president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, lays out three big concerns:
— Road safety: Larkin says police don’t have an approved breathalyzer-type device to catch stoned drivers on the road. Police rely on a saliva roadside test for the presence of cannabis which then has to be followed up with a blood test at a medical clinic or hospital. “We believe for the start of the legislation, let’s sort of have an abstinence. You can’t use cannabis and drive. Our position is driving is a privilege, it’s not a right.”
— Underage smoking (Under 19): “Canada has one of the highest usage rates of cannabis use among young people, the ages of 12-24,” says Larkin. “Quite frankly, what is the prevention plan? Getting away from the enforcement model, let’s actually look upstream. How do we stop or how do we encourage young people not to experiment or use drugs?” Right now, Larkin foresees cops hitting underage pot smokers with a ticket (fines are in the $165 range for underage drinkers) but he prefers “a diversion model for young people where they would be educated on the health impacts of using cannabis.”
— The cost to police to train officers about new weed-related enforcement issues: “ A guesstimate is we’re looking at about a 2% impact on our budgets across the province so it’s pretty significant. But … the federal government has extended potential monies across the province.”