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NICHOLAS MERCER: Legalization is an important first step

Marijuana became legal to purchase and smoke on Oct. 17.
Marijuana became legal to purchase and smoke on Oct. 17. - 123RF Stock Photo

Phil Oake did not smoke his first joint until the summer between Grade 9 and high school.

A friend of his in their hometown of Gander knew a guy  — as these stories often go — who had some oil papers.

Inhaling the thick smoke for the first time, Oake didn’t feel much of anything. He giggled a couple of times and enjoyed thinking he was on the verge of a high.

That didn’t deter him from continuing to smoke marijuana for the last two-plus decades.

At the time, finding the drug was a lot like finding alcohol. Make some calls, hopefully meet some guys in a parking lot and get some of what you’re looking for.

If that didn’t work, there was always that one house in town where everyone knew you could score marijuana, albeit at a higher price for less. They were often known as the 0.8 Posse, meaning you weren’t actually paying for a gram.

But, that was then.

Now 37 and living in George’s Lake, Oake and the rest of Canada will bear witness to a time when he says it's interesting more than anything else.

“It’ll be a regulated industry and you’re going to get the best of the product. It made sense.”

Wednesday marks a banner day for the country and those who supported the legalization of marijuana.

Seasoned smokers and curious newbies alike will be able to stroll into a storefront and purchase a quantity of the drug.

By law, they are allowed to have upwards to 30 miligrams on them.

It is also a day that has divided many.

For many, the drug is still taboo and carries with it the stigma of being the gateway drug of the unmotivated and unproductive.

In searching for a graphic or photo to go along with this piece, I found a picture of woman smoking a joint and the smoke flowing from it formed a skull.

That visual, or the idea behind it, may never change.

When you think of a stoner, you don’t see Fortune 500 CEO or a school teacher, even though the chances are they enjoy smoking up as much as the next person.

You do think of the unkept with long hair and red eyes jamming to Bob Marley. You see the people who have no aim in life except the next high.

That’s not the case.

The legalization of marijuana is a step towards the legitimacy of using the drug to treat any number of illnesses and chronic pain.

Oake says he struggles with anxiety and some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Often, he finds himself locked inside his own head.

Marijuana fixes that and allows him to maintain a certain level of activity. Things like playing baseball locally or suiting up in a recreational hockey league are all things made easier through his use of the drug.                       

 “It stops the chatter and lets you relax,” said Oake. “Once the chatter stops, the production starts.

“Now, I’m motivated to get up and do something on this day instead of sit with my thoughts and feelings.”

When he was 16, Oake and his friends would often joke about being able to walk into a store and buy weed the same as someone could do for alcohol or liquor.

It was cool idea, but they never thought they’d see the day when it would be legal.

I asked him what he thought his younger self would think about what is happening today.

He gave two answers.

Phil Oake at 16 wouldn’t be in favour of it, citing regulations that would force him to find someone to buy it for them, as he had to do if he wanted to a half-case of beer.

An 18-year-old Oake would look forward to it knowing he was on the cusp of being the legal age.

Now in his mid-30s, what it means carries a lot of weight. Now, the older smoker can enjoy their vice as much as the wine drinker and not have to suffer as much of the social backlash that comes with it.

“Because of legalization, I can openly talk … about something that has positive influences on my life,” he said.

Nicholas Mercer is the online editor with The Western Star. He lives in Corner Brook and can be reached at Nicholas.mercer@thewesternstar.com.

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