Moving On From Civil Disobedience
We’re almost 4 months from the coming into force day of the cannabis legalization bill, C-45. There are some persistent issues, the most notable being the lack of supply many Canadians are facing. On the plus side however, the sky didn’t fall, and we didn't enter a constitutional crisis (one of the many dire predictions made by the Senate Conservative caucus).
There remain many battles to be fought, but it’s likely a large part of those will be in the court system for the next decade or so. So, what now? That probably depends whether you lean towards civil disobedience or creative compliance. For a long time the cannabis legalization movement has had much of the former and far less of the latter.
The two terms share something in common, opposing the orthodoxy of following rules and regulations to the letter. Civil disobedience would have you outright break a law, the magnitude of defiance is almost more important than the act itself. Creative compliance is the inverse, the service or product you’re offering is the focus, not focusing on the apparatus of the state but what you’re actually achieving.
Your particular position on that spectrum is probably decided by whether you feel more change can be wrought from the inside or the outside. We’re the first G7 country to have our system of government decide that enough constituents favour the end of the drug war when it comes to cannabis, and that’s pretty big. On a national scale, ignoring machinations such as global UN drug treaties, even proponents of laissez-faire regulatory systems would agree with ‘it should be legal to consume and possess cannabis’ as the end goal.
The details, of course, are where things go sideways. Our advertising restrictions are best described as draconian, and public consumption issues exist all across the country. The problems with public consumption warrant their own piece, and the ridiculousness of policies such as banning edibles in public places illustrate the issue quite well. So why would you ever want to try and comply with this current system?
The answer lies in how legalization spread in Canada. Beginning with Section 56 Exemptions, essentially permission from the government for you to break one of their laws, medical access is how cannabis started to be normalized in Canada. Many former prohibitionists have been swayed to at least support medical cannabis usage by seeing its impact on a seriously ill family member or friend.
The root of this support, and the issue advocated for is the legality of cannabis for a specific audience. Recreational legalization just means that your audience has grown exponentially bigger to be just about everyone. When your audience changes you have to adapt to them just as a public speaker does.
Recreational cannabis will be normalized as it becomes more ubiquitous, and that generally means as it becomes more legal. You can look to the way CBD products are treated, there’s misconceptions both that it’s legal to buy and legal to sell non-regulated products from consumers and retailers. Different from the concept of civil disobedience popularized by April 20th celebrations, the idea isn't that it’s illegal to do, but that the natural assumptions of a portion of the population is that it would be legal.
Arguments for legalization from advocates can be powerful, but nothing makes an impact quite like feedback from constituents who have never spoken about cannabis before for more legality. How do we get there with the rest of the plant? How about taking a cannabis plant on a plane trip?
Amanda Siebert, prolific cannabis journalist and best-selling author recently took a hemp plant through airport security on the way to Calgary. Not what a majority of cannabis connoisseurs would go for, but the fan leaves on the plant are the same as its THC-rich sibling. To the average person, it’s what was forbidden until October 17th, 2018.
When society at large sees as cannabis in more places like airport security, that normalization process will expand beyond the current social graphs it occupies. More people will start questioning why a substance closer to coffee than alcohol has draconian restrictions placed on it in many different ways.
I’m not sure the era of civil disobedience is completely over when it comes to cannabis, the first challenges against what amounts to a complete prohibition on regular cannabis usage for some drivers are already underway in the court system. It does seem like we should now be considering creative compliance as the first place to go. Not because our regime of legalization is perfect, but because in the broadest possible terms the most radical cannabis activist agrees with the government’s position.
Once you get over the fundamental disagreement over legality, the work is in redefining what the details of legal cannabis look like. Reinforcing George Santayana’s famous bit of philosophy, we have chosen to forget the past of alcohol prohibition and condemned ourselves to repeat the draconian restrictions of that time.
The good news is that things eventually got better, and today at least in British Columbia you can buy a bottle of wine along with your dinner preparations at the grocery store. Things will eventually get better with cannabis, and we can make eventually come a lot sooner when our primary association with cannabis is not the novelty of it being legal but it being something that you would be likely to encounter in your travels.