Someone who believes (1) any problem can be fixed by smoking marijuana, and (2) any activity is more enjoyable whilst stoned.

We often see medical marijuana users smoking a joint in newspapers and news sites as more and more people stand up for their medical needs and rights. But what about the rest of the cannabis community?

  Some that have medical need outright refuse to get a prescription, fearing they would be targeted for discrimination and so take their chances. Or, for many Canadians, because the program that—if you can find a doctor to sign the forms—gives protection from being charged for possession under the criminal act is complicated and takes a long time. There are millions that don’t have any medical affliction that would allow them even to apply.

What about the people that just like to go home after work and sit quietly smoking a joint? Not wanting to scream about freeing the weed for their health, but because they enjoy the relaxation effect, they may need a little appetite stimulation, or help with sleep. They use pot instead of over the counter medications that any adult could buy without being labelled ‘medical patient’. They work, pay taxes, and enjoy smoking their herb. They don’t care about politics or legalization; as long as they stay invisible they don’t get risk getting charged or losing their jobs.  These are the quiet majority; the people that advocates need to reach. These are the people that we need to be able see us like them.

They buy from the local dealer down the block that works a minimum wage job and sells a bit of weed to help support a family. For the dealer, legalization creates an industry, one maybe offering a better paying  job or the chance to open a cannabis-trade business. But legalization would also put street dealers out of business; there are people comfortable in prohibition making money off the black market. Along with fear-driven prohibitionists and our own governments we have to fight against these people too—people that live off the avails of other people’s misery and affliction—and we will never change their minds.

People who work in healthcare, construction, the oil fields, transport—they all have to take drug tests. They must hide their drug use or lose employment. I have many friends that work in these industries that feel this perception will never change. Prescriptions for medical marijuana don’t matter; people in these fields, such as heavy equipment operators and long haul truckers, aren’t allowed to use anything, even ‘normal’ pharmaceuticals, that could affect job performance. It’s okay to have a recreational drink after work, but don’t smoke a daily spliff as its markers stay in the human system for weeks.

How do we change the perception so that marijuana and the non-medical consumer are no longer judged as any different than anyone that enjoys a social drink? How do we protest and present legalization as the positive social change it is rather than an ‘illicit drug’ taking over the world?  I have felt the heavy stares of conservative non-consumers that feel we are all horrible criminals who should be put in jail. “If you sell a bag of weed you’re a trafficker. Then you must have guns and pit bulls and be a bad person.” This is the stereotypical drug dealer presented to them by conservative media.

Why is it acceptable to use this plant only for medical use when in reality the recreational harms are far less than with alcohol, which is a legal substance? Legalisation means ‘vapour lounges’ keeping pot off the streets just like bars with liquor. It means pot-store regulation just like with alcohol.  But in this battle we have to fight against the ‘one bad apple’ syndrome. Even within the cannabis community there’s fighting, which is the saddest state of affairs yet.

As an activist I have organized many smoke-outs as protest. I have seen, over the last few years, that the sneering isn’t as bad, but I also had to get a pink piece of paper saying I was ‘legal’ to change the perception of me in the minds of my family, conservative MPs, and many others. Why? Why should it make a difference whether I use it for medication, relaxation, or whatever else I, an adult, choose to use it for? Why do I need a pink piece of paper for pot when for a drink all I need is ID?

To the mainstream, smoke-outs reinforce bad expectations of pot smokers. Sensationalised  media put the ‘organized crime’ spin on anyone or anything having to do with ‘drugs’, zone in on teen usage instead of considering informed adults, and overall make the optics bad. Protesting is one thing—standing up for your self is great—but smoke-outs have been proven to get us nowhere with the mainstream… all they see are dirty pot heads: under-motivated losers that live in their mothers’ basements and a bunch of teens wanting to skip life and ‘just get high’. To this day I hear those same sentiments coming from my own generation and those even younger.

Medical and non-medical activists need to take a different approach with the average non-consumer; appealing to them with regulatory ideas rather than smoking in their faces.

I have been in a number of Conservative MC offices and have had such MPs tell me I changed their mind positively about legalization, and they understood the approach and the reasoning.  With one MP, during only our second meeting, I was told that in six years of sitting in that office not one person had ever approached him about marijuana, medical or otherwise. This was at the same time that the regulations for the medical program were first coming in and we agreed that legalization and regulation would be the only way to really give everyone access.

I have attended Liberal conventions and ‘Caucus Campaign’ college meetings and see how ‘they’ perceive the average pot-consumer.  I have been told on so many occasions, “you don’t look like you’d smoke pot.” My response is usually “what does a pot consumer look like?”

We have to fight against the stereotypical perception of people of all ages all across Canada. Recently a military wife of a high ranking general approached me in Montreal to tell me of her son’s issues with PTSD and how he was addicted to pharmaceutical medication. She too was a healthcare worker, and shared how hard it had all been on their family. She also shared that her husband also suffered from PTSD.  They were looking at cannabis, but feared the perception of ‘being potheads’. One of the reasons they had crossed the floor from the Conservatives to the Liberals was the acceptance they found there. She asked for me to keep doing what I was doing in Alberta, because they had lived in Edmonton and she didn’t believe there were any other liberals in Alberta.

I try to stay non-partisan and always suggest to new voters that they vote with their knowledge. People should look at all policies within each party and decide who the best representative is in any riding. But these undecided or unclear voters are who we most need behind us. Not the politicians but the voters that put them in office. The perception of ‘potheads’ needs to be accepted and acceptable.

The only thing that is going to change the mainstream perception of the cannabis movement is us. The chance to gain acceptance within society, changing minds of all generations, is us. We are the only ones that can change how the average Canadian sees the average cannabis consumer.

Be the change that you want to see.