Impending Cannabis Legalization in Canada: Contemplations from an Asthmatic

Canada is legalizing recreational cannabis use in July 2018. I’m cool with this: legalization—moving beyond decriminalization—will allow more research to be done on this drug (said to be safer than alcohol or tobacco); will save taxpayer funds needlessly imprisoning “offenders” for minor marijuana possession charges1, and will contribute to the economy.2 Cannabis use will also become safer as a result—it will be tested, likely adorned with similar labeling to cigarettes, and could come in child-proof packaging2, per ProCon.org.

Evading pollution

Yesterday, though, as I went from a downtown Starbucks to the downtown underground a few blocks away to meet a friend, I headed inside on a beautiful day to make the walk. One good thing about Winnipeg’s frigid winters is the network of skywalks that cover a good mass of the downtown core’s main buildings. The reason I went inside on a beautiful day? The volume of smokers on my route. Instead of taking a straight line walk from the Starbucks to meet my friend, I zigged and zagged through our skywalk network to finally find myself in the underground. (By the way, my friend couldn’t even figure out how to find me inside there!)

Cannabis comes in many forms—and I really could care less about all but the inhaled form. Because the problem with smoking weed is that you don’t just breathe it in—I do too as I’m walking down Portage or Graham Avenue. (Or that time i encountered people smoking up in the university bathroom. C’mon now, guys!) Living with bad asthma, I’d simply rather not. People are afraid of their kids getting inadvertently high. It’s a valid concern. Personally, I’m more concerned about my lungs not freaking out—I mean, I’m more than “liberal enough” that I support legalization, and while I have no desire to try it myself, I am of course curious! But yeah, you go ahead, I’d like to be able to breathe, thanks.

There’s a significant public health issue associated with both tobacco and marijuana smoke. Now, research indicates that unless you spend a good amount of time in a confined space with pot smokers, you will not get high—nor will you fail a drug test for the trace amounts of THC in your blood.3 So, that’s good news, though some studies indicate mild psychoactive effects (getting a mild “high”) have been reported by some “passive users” 4. Given cannabis has not been legalized in most places, little research has been able to be done in regard to the safety profile of pot—following legalization, our understanding of the overall effects of marijuana should expand greatly.

Impact of marijuana legalization on asthma

My concern is, last I heard, advocacy organizations in the asthma and lung space were really looking into the risks of people who have asthma smoking cannabis. You know what? That’s a risk but it’s also a choice. It’s not a choice for me to have to inhale more smoke—pot smoke being of a more spread-y and billowy nature—technical terms—than tobacco smoke. I want the rights of the majority of us to be advocated for: those of us with asthma who won’t smoke cannabis, but have to deal with the smoke in our daily lives anyways.

I don’t know what the answers are. I don’t think we’ve done well enough enforcing where people are allowed to smoke tobacco, so I’m not sure we’ll do much better with marijuana. While I’m for legalization, I’m less concerned with the things the government seems to be, and more concerned with how that’s going to impact the rest of us, and our lung health when we’re not choosing to smoke up.

Is cannabis legal where you live? How do you navigate avoiding marijuana and tobacco smoke?

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