The Canadian government has repeatedly stated that it intends to condone, not encourage, cannabis use by legalizing recreational consumption later this year.
That objective has left longtime activists like Steve DeAngelo with one burning question: why not?
“Why wouldn’t you want to encourage use of a substance that reduces pharmaceutical use, cuts down on fatal opioid use, and reduces alcohol consumption and violent crime?" he asked last week during the closing speech at the 2018 World Cannabis Congress.
DeAngelo - who is the co-founder and CEO of the Harborside cannabis chain and author of 'The Cannabis Manifesto' - argued that lawmakers and industry reps are making a big mistake by taking the joy out of the conversation about this “kind and generous plant.”
“[They’re missing] the ability of cannabis to spark creativity, wake up the sense of play, heighten connection with nature, to encourage self examination and introspection, to teach ways of more peaceful conflict resolution, to enhance the sound of music or the taste of a meal or the touch of your lover’s skin. These are some of the most precious and meaningful experiences we can have as human beings. Cannabis is a tool for better living.”
He also quibbled with the distinction between medical and recreational use, saying that consumers enjoy medicinal benefits like pain relief and improved moods even though they don't identify as patients.
“It’s not about getting high, it’s about being well,” he added.
But that's not the message you get from Canadian policymakers, who are developing regulations based on stigma instead of research, according to DeAngelo.
“Stigma is this slippery thing," he said. "It’s not an honest thing. It resides in weird looks that people give you and uncomfortable lulls in conversation and phone calls that should have been returned, but never do get returned. It’s clearly something that needs to be addressed.”
To do that, he urged every delegate at the Congress to change the perception of cannabis. "We need to, as an industry, present cannabis to the world as something more than an intoxicant.”
And the first step is to follow in the footsteps of the LGBTTQQIAAP+ movement and come out of the cannabis closet. DeAngelo urged consumers to stop whispering about their use and come out already.
"If every respectful, successful person who consumed cannabis stood up tomorrow and let everybody know that they are a cannabis consumer, we would see a massive drop in stigma, and it would happen quite quickly, right?"
DeAngelo ended his talk by challenging everyone in the room to come out as a cannabis consumer or a legalization supporter to at least one person every week. And he set himself up for a standing ovation by calling on the hundreds of delegates to stand up and take that pledge in public, which the hundreds of delegates eagerly accepted.
So don't be surprised if a lot of unexpected people begin opening up about their cannabis use this week.