Canada Cannabis Medical medical marijuana

Does Halifax Harbour Distate for Cannabis?

or does it just want people to think that

The cannabis scene in Halifax is not one that is immediately noticeable; a long-standing and pervasive drinking culture is clearly dominant here, and rightly so in a port city where the people have been shaped by the sea they so clearly cleave to. 

Picture of Author blindfolded with booze and weed in hands
Lady Justice

Many turn to cannabis to slow the pace to life- to take a break, a moment for themselves to be mindful in a whirling world of noise and speed and light. Maybe this is why the legalization of cannabis in Nova Scotia’s capital is, to my eye, hardly visible. This is already at the core of maritime culture.

I am a medical consumer of cannabis; I am usually vaping/smoking it in small quantities regularly throughout the day. When I travel, this becomes especially important because of how tenuous I feel my safety is in a new place.  Imagine then my surprise when I exited the airport only to find “No Cannabis” signposted everywhere in sight. I felt a chill. No, it is likely just the airport property that doesn’t allow it (totally reasonable!).

I then pull out my phone to check municipal smoking bylaws in Halifax. I feel very strongly that for the perception toward cannabis use to change, we habitual consumers must be very- nay, overly!- respectful of not only laws, but also the preferences of others. I wouldn’t wave my whisky in the face of a non-drinker, or hold it at child-level; same goes for pot. I also take great pleasure in reading the signs and following the rules. However…

All government resources where one would find the bylaw detail state that there is no smoking on Halifax streets; smokers are to light up ONLY in designated smoking areas. Okay. I’m starting to feel a bit worried.

I reference the map of smoking areas; there’s one near my AirBnB, hooray! My husband suggests we drive by it to see where it is exactly, and what we’re dealing with. Well friends, although not signposted at all, it was quite clear where the ‘smoking area’ was. You know what it looks like when you see too many animals in too small of a pen? How you can’t make out distinct activity, just get a general impression of filth, misery, and danger? So, I’m not saying that all smoking areas in Halifax look like this; but this one did. 

Here I am, unmedicated, on the raggedy edge, and I’m picturing myself, insomniac, at 4am, walking down the street to this place take my medicine. A place that triggers flashbacks just by driving by. A place where I would be putting my safety unequivocally in jeopardy. This is way beyond the Pride Lands; this is the Elephant’s Graveyard.

So now we’re heading to a very compassionate friend’s house (where I will be at ease medicating) while I have episode after episode in the car. I feel like a criminal, looking for somewhere to do my drugs; but what is really happening is that PTSD is compromising my ability to function, and I am panicking in sensory overload. 

Sneaking in my medicine!

Suffice to say that the migraine that ensued as a result of my episodes seriously hampered my ability to enjoy Halifax.

That is until my husband, tired of seeing me in pain, unable to eat, hardly able to breathe, and refusing to medicate because of this fear of committing civil disobedience, struck out to find some answers. He walked straight into two police officers on foot. He explained the situation to them; ‘my wife has PTSD, high anxiety, and experiences seizures; she medicates with cannabis. It is legal and it is prescribed by a doctor. However, she cannot smoke it in our Air BnB, or within 100ft of any doorway. She cannot smoke it on the sidewalk according to municipal bylaw; and according to same, she cannot go to a park, to the waterfront, commons, or green space. The smoking area a block from our Air BnB is clearly unsafe. Please offer a solution.’ (to note; these same rules apply to vaping). 

The officers were, of course, reasonable & sympathetic.

Very few people understand my obsessive need to never set a foot wrong; but I have found, anecdotally, that police officers tend to simply appreciate the quality, without feeling the need to look a gift horse in the mouth. As my husband tells it, after explaining that the bylaw is primarily enforced in the business district, and that those enforcing it are required to ask you to move before they fine you, they told my husband in all frankness that they’d rather I feel comfortable and safe medicating in their city…and that they have bigger concerns than a 30-something mom sneaking a puff of her medicine on a sidewalk while she tours the city with her family. Then, after suggesting some locations that were out of the way but safe (and also had amazing vistas, what luck!), they were off to deal with the drunk woman screaming obscenities at passerby across the street.

Perhaps the deserted sandbar is far enough away for a J?
Perhaps the deserted sandbar is far enough away for a J?

From the moment this information was relayed to me, the guilt that had started to resurface fizzled away. Although the City of Halifax, officially, did its best to make me feel like a criminal for attempting to continue my medication regimen, the people there saved me from that particular torture. 

Now that I am returned to Ontario, vaping comfortably on my porch, I am forced to question the optics of my experience. Driving over the bridge into Halifax, you see a giant billboard advertising a special ‘available only in the maritimes’ white rum. There’s a dashing pirate pictured smirking, offering you a bottle. I don’t drink, but it was a well-positioned advertisement that was quite enticing. Compare that with how cannabis is advertised. Oh; you’re right- it can’t be. At all. There are countless places where it is acceptable and even encouraged to drink alcohol; but if you want to smoke a joint outside of your home, you must consciously choose to transgress bylaws.

I am not saying that alcohol and cannabis are the same thing; or that they should be treated exactly the same way. But what I am saying is that we have two recreational inebriants; and when it comes to the way that they are positioned by governments, (federal, provincial, or municipal) what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. In the end, they’re consumed because people enjoy it.

You cannot facilitate that exposure for one and impede it for the other.

Let’s consider for a moment the people who grow these crops. Can you think of a reason that a person who grows grapes and a person who grows cannabis should take different amounts of pride in what they produce? Talk to either and you will see the love and passion in their eyes; you will see the sacrifices that they make to allow their plants to thrive, same as any other farmer. 

Expanding into the other aspects of the industry; what about that budtender who has sampled, tested, tasted, and meticulously documented every strain and brand they can access, in order to better serve their customers? Is that person to be hampered, hindered and judged, hidden away in a verdant subculture, while a professional mixologist or sommelier is openly praised and lauded for their dedication to quality of service? 

Even further to the business-minded folks in the industry; the innovation I’ve seen in the cannabis sphere is unparalleled; they’ve not just stopped at THC or CBD infused products, but go much farther and wider; beckoning everyone from local artisans and makers to researchers and developers to grow and change the industry and offerings. This is, of course, juxtaposed the well-established alcohol industry, which now rests on its laurels, pursuing advertising (aforementioned billboard being a prime example), rather than innovation as an avenue for growth.    

I could go on; these are hardly the only nooks of the cannabis world that are subject to external prejudice. And due to its recent legalization, cannabis certainly has a long way to go before its absorption into our culture is a fait-accompli. Having said that, I do feel very strongly that if the federal government says that cannabis is legal, and the provincial governments prepare themselves to receive the influx of tax revenue, then they need to stop talking out of both sides of their mouths. My experience in Halifax is admittedly heavily influenced by recent efforts by the city to reduce tobacco smoking downtown, and cannabis is very much caught up in that initiative.

But the simple fact that you can freely show a kid a bottle of rum with a wink, but absolutely not a plant, just goes to show that consumers are not yet allowed to ‘pick their poison’ freely; they must make a choice whether to receive the mainstream nod of approval, or find themselves being openly subversive.  

Jo Poirier

About the Author: The Lettuce Lady, better known as Jo Poirier, was born and raised in the Lower Ottawa Valley by the St. Lawrence River. Jo was diagnosed with PTSD more than a year ago after several misdiagnoses, and became a medical cannabis patient officially after years of trial and error with ineffective drug cocktails. Jo advocates for the normalization of cannabis use from a place of experience, and seeks to lessen the stigma for both medical and recreational users. Jo loves being outdoors by the water, and lives just outside of the Greater Toronto Area with her husband, daughter, and LouDog. 

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