• Niche Canada

Back to Basics: Education is Key to Unlocking the Benefits of Legalization

It’s been three months since our country legalized recreational cannabis. In that time, a lot of attention has been paid to topics such as supply shortages, business deals and the many benefits of cannabis, to name a few. But perhaps it’s time we took a step back and once again focused on the naysayers and how to alleviate their concerns.

We can’t lose sight of the fact that we need to engage, listen and educate those who are opposed to legalization. We need to continue consulting with municipalities, Indigenous communities, law enforcement, public health advocates, businesses and consumer groups. In some cases, this may lead to the development of better policies. In other cases, it may provide a much need explanation to those who are opposed about the rationale for legalization and the benefits that it creates.

It’s important to remember that our elected officials have more power to affect how legalization is rolled out than we might think. There is a lot of misinformation that is being disseminated in communities, and it’s only through outreach and education that we can set the record straight and address concerns. The future landscape of legalization depends on it.

Case in point – Ontario. The January 22 deadline to accept or decline cannabis shops has passed. As of the afternoon on deadline day, 71 municipalities had opted out and 95 cities, towns, townships and regions across the province had not exercised their option to accept or bar brick-and-mortar cannabis shops from their precincts. These decisions not only shape the future of cannabis sales in these communities, they impact where suppliers and ancillary businesses choose to set up shop.

There has also been a rise in fear-mongering and alarms over the claims around mental health issues and crime related to cannabis use. For example, recently in The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell drew a connection between cannabis use, schizophrenia and violent crimes in Washington.

Gladwell’s piece, and a subsequent New York Times Op-Ed, drew quick rebukes from cannabis researchers and legalization advocates, who took issue with their selective use of data. Despite the criticism, one of the takeaways from both pieces is that more research and public education is necessary.

Canadians still have legitimate questions about legalization and they deserve honest answers. As NICHE travels the country speaking to businesses, industry and government, we’re hearing that people from all sides of the equation are seeking healthy dialogue about the benefits and risks, as well as clarity and support when it comes to regulations.

In particular, we need to focus more attention and resources on enhancing cross-cultural education and outreach. Most immigrant groups are not embracing cannabis yet, so it’s important to start breaking down stereotypes in these communities.

And, with edibles being legalized this year, the need for education will become even more apparent. There is already apprehension about the sale of edibles, so it will be worthwhile to take a proactive approach to clearing up the confusion and questions about the rules.

So, as we enter the next phase of legalization, let’s remember that engagement, collaboration and communication with all sectors of the industry and all sides of the cannabis debate will benefit us all.