Pubdate: Thu, 05 Jan 2017
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The London Free Press
Author: Barry Cooper
Page: 7


Visiting British Columbia is like going to a foreign land without
using your passport.

Having spent most of my early life there, it's always fun to see how
much has changed. When I was a kid, for example, there was a major
moral panic over marijuana use and another about Vancouver being the
heroin gateway to North America.

The drug scene today is the opposite of a moral panic. It's more an
everyday complacency. With pot soon to be legal across the country,
B.C. provides a glimpse of our future. If you wander through B.C.
today, as we did over the Christmas break, more or less normal
Albertans might be forgiven for thinking that the whole province is

Our first evidence came at a steak joint in Abbotsford. The waiter
looked puzzled when I asked for steak sauce. He first brought mustard,
then ketchup. Our daughter, more familiar with such behaviour than her
parents, stated, matter-of-factly, "the guy is stoned." The steak,
ordered rare, was grey. I pointed this out to the waiter, who got the
manager. "This steak is cooked just right," the manager announced. He
was stoned, too.

B.C. has long had a serious relationship with pot. Years ago, "B.C.
bud" was in demand all along the West Coast, from Juneau to San Diego.
But then hydroponics and the invention of medical marijuana introduced
a whole new set of options.

In the last year, Vancouver pot entrepreneurs have expanded their
operations with the usual unintended and comic political effects.
Vancouver city council voted against allowing grocery stores to sell
wine because it was said to be unhealthy. Yet, in a city that is
poorly served with wine outlets, at least compared to Calgary, there
are dozens of illegal pot dispensaries.

These are not places you need a prescription to purchase weed. They
are retail stores advertising what's in stock and the effects that,
say, Bruce Banner No. 3 or Bubba Kush have on their clients.

Evidently, the Vancouver police don't bother to enforce what is still
Canadian law. Nevertheless, the municipality demanded these retail
outlets purchase expensive business licences. Or at least it tries to
do so. Several pot marts have discovered that they can get along quite
well without a licence. And they refuse to pay when they are fined for
operating without one.

There is also a gloomy side to the drug scene in B.C. By mid-December,
more than 750 persons had died from drug overdoses, mostly from
opioids. By normal standards, that would be an epidemic. Back in 2003,
44 persons died from SARS in the whole country and it was deemed an
epidemic. In November alone, 128 people in B.C. died from drugs.

Even pets have suffered. A touching story in the Victoria paper told
of Chico the pug pup, who ate opioid-laced scraps while walking in
Mount Douglas Park. At first, the veterinarian, Helen Rae, thought
Chico had just swallowed some pot. But then she treated the dog with
two doses of naloxone, an opioid-reversing medication usually used on
humans who overdose on fentanyl.

Her clinic was then repeatedly contacted by "sketchy-sounding people,"
as Rae called them, asking about fentanyl, not the antidote.

Another major story told of misuse of the 911 emergency number. One
caller wanted advice on dealing with a spider in his bathtub. Another
couldn't get his electric razor to turn off. A third wanted help in
getting his toy drone out of a tree.

It was unclear whether these emergencies involved pot or just

Barry Cooper teaches political science at the University of Calgary.
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