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Blowing in the Wind: Cannabis Legalization, Insiders, and Methodological Insights from British Columbia 

Published onOct 21, 2022
Blowing in the Wind: Cannabis Legalization, Insiders, and Methodological Insights from British Columbia 
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ABSTRACT

Legalizing cannabis in Canada has proven momentous in some ways and insufficient in others. This paper presents findings from a re-analysis of two studies on cannabis legalization conducted in British Columbia (B.C.) before and after legalization. Prioritizing public health over access appears to prolong stigmatization, complicate policing, and undermine efforts to disrupt illicit cannabis markets. We outline three contributions to the nascent post- prohibition cannabis research agenda. First, we demonstrate the potential for secondary data analysis (SDA) and model an approach to address recent concerns about this practice. Second, we show the value of insiders when assessing cannabis policy by demonstrating support for previous findings while extending and complicating others. Third, and finally, we identify four themes from the data to guide the future study of cannabis within criminology. These include the impact of public education on cannabis stigma, post-legalization policing changes, the dangers of over-regulation, and the effects of legalization on crime. In addition, we consider the role of race, ethnicity, and injustice, which while largely absent in this study, remains an essential issue in cannabis policy.

Keywords: Cannabis; Secondary Data Analysis; Qualitative Research; Stigma; Policing; Illicit Markets


As jurisdictions worldwide wrestle with the costly consequences of criminalization, some are extending calls by the United Nations (U.N.) to promote alternatives to “conviction and punishment"1 by embracing cannabis legalization and regulation. By 2023, Germany and Malta will move toward legalizing and regulating the sale of cannabis, following the lead of Uruguay and Canada. While the adverse impacts of cannabis prohibition on the criminal justice system have long been noted (Kaplan, 1970), evidence of the benefits of legalization is beginning to emerge. Between 1998 and 2018, police arrested between 34 and 61 thousand Canadians a year for possessing cannabis.2 By contrast, in 2020, just 1,378 were arrested.3 Approximately 500,000 people with criminal records for cannabis-related crimes may now be eligible for pardons.4 This is important given that a criminal record constrains employment opportunities, limits housing options, and prevents civic and political engagement (Best & Colman, 2019; Pinard, 2010).

In Canada, it has been four years since the regulation of cannabis (Bill C-45) became official law in June 2018. Legal cannabis became available in many dispensaries by mid-October 2018, and this delay shaped the way new legal consumers accessed cannabis. More than a year after legalization, some provinces had opened only a handful of retail outlets far from larger urban areas (Heidt, 2021). Despite, or perhaps because of, the notoriety of “B.C. bud,” legal cannabis sales in B.C. remain low, and few shops operate in ways that could displace illicit markets. Critics argue commercial cannabis has become dominated by a small number of large-scale firms able to finance the costs and compliance with complex regulations (Bennett, 2021). In 2022, 700 licensed cannabis producers and retailers in Canada began lobbying governments to reduce taxes, fees, and provincial markups.5

This paper makes three contributions to the nascent post-prohibition cannabis research agenda. These follow from emerging research programs (Corva & Meisel, 2021; Fischer et al., 2021; Oldfield et al., 2021; Seddon & Floodgate, 2020) but focus on specific methodological and ethical considerations. This includes ethical challenges associated with secondary data analysis (SDA) and possible solutions (Ruggiano & Perry, 2019; Wanke et al., 2022), and also a descriptive effort to present re-analyzed data based on key terms based on a detailed review of literature involving cannabis and criminology. Finally, given the voluminous literature and new studies on cannabis, we posit a novel framework to help re-focus and re-organize past research consistent with a broad reading of criminology and its multidisciplinary focus.

This paper presents findings from a re-analysis of two studies on cannabis legalization conducted in B.C. before and after legalization. We explore the potential and complications of secondary data analysis (SDA) in cannabis research and outline an approach to address emerging concerns about this practice. Next, we show the value of insiders when assessing cannabis policy by demonstrating support for previous findings while extending and complicating others. These efforts might consider how qualitative research can provide vital nuance to guide cannabis policy. One important approach involves engaging people who use cannabis to develop, implement, and assess future drug policies. Ritter (2021: 10) notes the growing recognition that people who use drugs should “… have a central position in drug policy formation.” Finally, we identify four themes from the data to guide the future study of cannabis within criminology and posit a fifth, based on the literature, to consider the intersections of race, stigma, policing, and punishment.

Background

 In 2018, Canada became the second country, after Uruguay, to formally legalize the cultivation, possession, and consumption of cannabis and its by-products. To guide their approach, the federal government identified several goals for cannabis regulation (Health Canada, 2016).  Goals included minimizing the harms of use by prohibiting the sale of cannabis to minors by creating standards for advertising and packaging cannabis and establishing a safe supply chain by regulating cultivation and distribution and limiting the number of home-grown plants. Other goals included enforcing public safety with penalties for impaired driving and selling to underage consumers and restricting public use of cannabis. Finally, Canada sought to ensure appropriate medical access by providing affordable products for medical users (Health Canada, 2016).

Consistent with the Canadian approach to federalism, Canada allowed provinces and territories to set added restrictions around possession limits, minimum age, public use, personal cultivation, and retail models (Corva & Meisel, 2021). Retail models, including government-operated stores and the more common private-licensed stores, and provinces allowed retail stores to open at different rates (Seddon & Floodgate, 2020). For example, in Nova Scotia, cannabis is sold through the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NCLS), although not in the same physical location as alcohol. Alberta has proceeded to open private-licensed locations and allowed access rapidly and was the highest of any province at CA$123.6 million (Ward, 2019). British Columbia (B.C.) has taken a much slower approach. Despite a well-developed cannabis culture, a limited supply of low-quality and expensive cannabis has dominated the legal market. This has prevented the legal cannabis market from competing with illicit markets (Ballard, 2020; Corbett, 2021; Fumano, 2021).

Research conducted by Statistics Canada (2019) found that over 40% of Canadians still obtain their cannabis from illegal sources. In 2022, the President, and CEO of the Cannabis Council of Canada (C3), representing more than 700 licensed producers and processors of cannabis in Canada, C3, stated: "We can't get too excited in a circumstance where the illicit market remains with at least 50 percent of the business."6 This has been repeated by others who seem pessimistic about suppressing illicit markets and predict illegal cannabis will account for most sales (see Williams, 2019a and 2019b). One way to understand the persistence of illicit markets is to consider the views of people who use cannabis and other cannabis insiders.

Cannabis Insiders and Insights

 Calls to increase the role of those who use drugs in the development of policies (Ritter, 2021) borrow from the philosophical naturalism of David Matza. For Matza (1969: 5), naturalism is “…the philosophical view that strives to remain true to the nature of the phenomenon under study or scrutiny.” This approach is consistent with calls to renew the place of qualitative research in criminology (Young, 2011), in part because these approaches “…place the subject closer in cultural distance to the source and audience” (Jacques, 2014: 317). Incorporating the insights of those who have direct experiences with drug use is not new (Becker, 1963; Young, 1971). However, this approach to cannabis research is increasingly international.

Research in Norway (Dahl, 2015; Sandberg, 2008; Sandberg, 2012), Canada (Osborne & Fogel, 2017) and Australia (Greer & Ritter (2019; 2020) and recent work in Sweden (Feltmann et al., 2021), Nigeria (Nelson, 2021), Mexico (Agoff et al., 2021), and Poland (Wanke et al., 2022) suggest the value of consulting people who use drugs to provide descriptions of drug markets, the role of criminal sanctions, and gender norms and decriminalization, especially as these relate to stigma. As Wanke and colleagues note (2022), some people who use cannabis exist as part of maturing global cannabis cultures while operating within conservative drug discourses. As qualitative research in this area expands, so do ethical questions about how to responsibly use and consider secondary data analysis (SDA) in qualitative cannabis research.

Research Questions, Sample, and Methodology

This research reports secondary data analysis (SDA) based on two studies conducted between 2018 and 2020 focused on the expectations and impact of cannabis regulation in B.C. (Heidt, 2021; Heidt et al., 2018). Three research questions inform the current study. These can be described as methodological, descriptive, and exploratory. Below we detail the research questions, describe the sample, and detail the methodology we applied to address each research question. Consistent with recent scrutiny of SDA (Ruggiano & Perry, 2019), one central question was how to ethically engage in the re-analysis.

Research Questions

 The first research question is methodological. In short, can the guidance by Ruggiano & Perry (2019) on the challenges associated with secondary data analysis be adapted to cannabis research? The second question is descriptive. To what extent does the re-analyzed data suggest support for key terms based on a detailed review of literature involving cannabis and criminology? We considered this question based on the prevalence of 15 concepts and 45 keywords developed based on our review of more than 200 articles and books related to cannabis and criminology between 1963 and 2022. The third question is exploratory. How can connections between these within the data help frame this developing area of research? Some past efforts are broad (Corva & Meisel, 2021), and others adopt a crime control perspective (Fischer et al., 2021: 58). Neither capture criminology’s multidisciplinary focus.

Sample

 The first study included data from 20 semi-structured interviews with various stakeholders in Abbotsford, B.C. This area of B.C. is known for the illicit cannabis trade with many organized crime groups, and illegal grow operations (Heidt et al., 2018). The study was completed before legal cannabis was available for purchase. Questions focused on participants’ views on the forthcoming legalization of cannabis (see Appendix 1). Participants included cannabis dispensary owners and those in close proximity to cannabis dispensaries. This included businesspeople, police, residents, and service providers with experience working with people who use cannabis.7 From this sample, 15 people were identified as “cannabis insiders,” and three people self identified as cannabis users.8

The second study reported results from 21 semi-structured, in-depth interviews with people who use cannabis and cannabis insiders from municipalities across B.C. (Heidt, 2021). This study was completed after legal cannabis had been available for a year and questions focused on participants’ views of legalization (See Appendix 2). From this sample, 16 people were identified as “cannabis insiders,” based on their work within the cannabis industry, including growers, dispensary owners, cannabis activists, social workers, and drug educators.9 In the second study, five people self identified as cannabis users. In total, data from 39 interviews were re-analyzed.

Method

 In general, our approach to privilege the views of people who use cannabis and other insiders intimately involved with the subculture aligns with methodological suggestions offered by Kiepeka and colleagues (2019: 61), who state:

…individuals and various groups are currently using substances in ways that are beneficial and for the purpose of enhancing lives, which may or may not have co-occurring problematic or risky aspects. Thus, research on substance use needs to reflect lived experiences and local knowledges free from rigid discourses about problematic behaviours, harm, and risk.

 Based on research conducted under the auspices of the Center for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), we conducted secondary data analysis (SDA) using detailed direct quotations from interviews that were transcribed verbatim and that appeared in two previously published studies (Heidt, 2021; Heidt et al., 2018).

Secondary data analysis (SDA) of quantitative data is actively encouraged as part of open science, replication, and to avoid increasing worries about research error and fraud. Although the potential of SDA in qualitative research data was recognized in the 1960s (Glaser, 1962), it was not until the mid-1990s that the first article dedicated to the secondary analysis of qualitative data was published (Thorne, 1994). Since the mid-1990s, there has been growing recognition of both the potential and challenges (Heaton, 2008). While it can be used as a systematic method with procedural and evaluative steps, there is a lack of literature providing examples (Johnston, 2017: 620). Some have expressed concerns based on the sui generis nature of qualitative research (Walters, 2009) and that re-analysis without interrogating contextual shifts may lead to interpretations that undermine the original study (Mauthner et al., 1998).

Within qualitative cannabis research, SDA is beginning to emerge (Wanke et al., 2022). Due to the inconsistent legal status of cannabis, research in this area may need to consider to what extent this research places people who use cannabis use at risk from the criminal justice system, especially where prohibitionist ideas remain fervent (Heidt & Wheeldon, 2022). A particular concern is whether data can be de-identified (Parry & Mauthner, 2004) and whether consent, based on past confidentiality and anonymity can be presumed within research that relies on data re-analysis (Morrow et al., 2014).  To address these concerns, we sought additional approval from the Human Research Ethics Board at UFV.10

Consistent with principles of reflexivity and transparency (Nightingale & Cromby, 1999), we viewed the best antidote to identified problems associated with secondary analysis is to be clear about two essential issues (Ruggiano & Perry, 2019). The first was specifying differences between the original studies and the re-analysis. The second was ensuring one part of the re-analysis was conducted by someone unconnected to original research. Transparency also informed our methodological choices. Thematic analysis was conducted first using a classical qualitative frame (Wheeldon & Ahlberg, 2012), by calculating the prevalence of keywords. This approach can “produce new forms of information and provide checks against previously gathered evidence” (Fife, 2020: 121). We identified critical concepts based on a detailed review of literature involving cannabis and criminology.11 These concepts, organized in Table 1, often appear in the literature.


Table 1: Cannabis and Criminology: Concepts and Key Terms from the Literature

Concepts

Key Terms

Addiction

Addiction; Dependency; Gateway

Cost

Cost; Price; Tax

Crime/ Criminal Behavior

Crime; Gang; Violence

Driving

Driving; Impairment; Influence;

Education

Education; Prevention; Training

Policing

Arrest; Police; Resources;

Potency

Dose; Potency, Quality

Market

Black Market; Regulation; Illicit

Medical

Prescribe; Medical; Therapy;

Medicalization

Treatment; Psychosis; Warning

Normalization

Culture; Media; Youth

Racism

Unequal; Race/Ethnicity; Stop/Search

Sales

Advertising; Brand; Sales

Stigma

Judgment; Stereotype; Stigma

War on Drugs

Militarization; Reefer Madness; War on Drugs


Consistent with emerging best practices, one researcher, unconnected to the previous studies, noted the prevalence of these terms before legalization and compared it with prevalence following legalization through a process of “concept counting” (Turns et al., 2000). It provides a means for “the easily seen and the virtually invisible to come under examination” (Fife, 2020: 121). Central here was ensuring double counting did not occur. This limited the reliance on software calculators since similar concepts could be described using two or more keywords, as provided in table 1.

Third and finally, based on the results of the second question, we embraced a unique approach to thematic analysis. Consistent with grounded approaches, themes were identified only after data collection to ensure we kept an open mind rather than try to “fit” data into past findings (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Our approach in this stage sought to describe the topic of study and develop an adequate theoretical conceptualization of the findings (Silverman, 2005). Analysis related to the second research question was conducted by a researcher unconnected to the first studies. By contrast, our third inquiry provided a role for a researcher intimately involved in both studies. By organizing the interviews conceptually, we attempted to group key terms in criminologically consistent and thematically useful ways.

Cannabis has been studied as part of biological and psychological efforts to understand cognition and violent crime (Niveau & Dang, 2003). In addition, it has been used to explore learning theories (Akers & Cochran, 1985; Becker, 1963), as part of subcultural studies (Becker, 1963; Sandberg, 2013), and connected to social control (Murray, 1986) and labeling via the role of stigma (Reid, 2020; Young, 1971). Less common is the use of economic theories and rational choice perspectives (Clarke & Cornish, 1986) to understand cannabis markets. Following our review of the interview transcripts, we linked major criminological theories with efforts to define, describe, and detail drug use.

Findings

Through this research, we explored the value and complexity of SDA, focused on re-analysis based on emergent guidelines, and created theoretically relevant criminological categories of cannabis research.

Secondary Data Analysis and Cannabis Research

 On the first question, and in terms of the value of SDA for qualitative studies, we conclude the approach we undertook was successful, with some caveats. By applying the principles outlined by Ruggiano & Perry (2019) to our analysis, we sought to build on the previous investigation without ignoring the context in which it emerged. This meant balancing the potential for re-analysis to add depth and detail to existing research while respecting the epistemological concerns about qualitative data collection as a series of unique encounters. Since this research was in the same vein as the earlier studies, re-analysis brought added precision to past analysis without comprising the backdrop of the research (Mauthner et al., 1998). To further ensure this analysis was not shaped by the previous work, we engaged in two separate analyses, reported below.

Key Terms and Concepts

 Re-analysis suggested the value of larger groups rather than those defined in the earlier studies. While detailed in their descriptions and rooted firmly in the value of reporting unique perspectives, numerous groupings of a relatively small number of participants made capturing common sentiments based on descriptive enumeration difficult. By reviewing the transcripts using text identification software, key terms, and related words, the prevalence was captured and organized based on whether the respondent used cannabis or was identified as a cannabis insider. In addition, the prevalence of concepts by groups was organized by the legal status of cannabis when the study was conducted. Study 1 (PWUC 1 and CI1) was conducted pre-legalization, and study 2 (PWUC 2 and CI2) was conducted post-legalization. Table 2 summarizes these findings.


Table 2: Keyword Results for People Who Use Cannabis (PWCU) and Cannabis Insiders (CI)

Concept

Key Terms

PWUC 1 n=3

PWUC 2 n=5

CI 1 n=15

CI 2 n=16

Addiction

Addiction; Dependency; Gateway

2

7

13

18

Cost

9

14

28

74

Crime

Crime; Gang; Violence

4

13

27

37

Driving

Driving; Impairment; Influence

1

8

23

22

Education

Education; Prevention; Training

0

5

38

35

Policing

Arrest; Police; Resources

4

2

15

38

Potency

Dose; Potency, Quality

1

4

24

57

Market

Black Market; Regulation; Illicit

6

33

92

229

Medical

Prescribe; Medical; Therapy

4

9

52

98

Medical-ization

Treatment; Psychosis; Warning

0

1

0

16

Normal-ization

Culture; Media; Youth

0

2

42

29

Racism

Unequal; Race/Ethnicity; Stop/Search

0

0

0

0

Sales

Advertising; Brand; Sales

5

4

46

15

Stigma

Judgment; Stereotypes; Stigma

4

12

10

54

War on Drugs

Militarization; Reefer Madness; War

0

0

3

5


The numeric review suggested that identified concepts increased for people who use cannabis and cannabis insiders in the post-legalization study with a few exceptions. These exceptions are interesting. In the pre-legalization research, people who use cannabis referenced terms related to “policing” more often when sample sizes were considered. By contrast, in the post-legalization research cannabis insiders mentioned issues related to “policing” much more frequently than in the pre-legalization study. The most significant increases were seen related to terms connected to “cost,” “market,” “medicine,” and “stigma.” However, the prevalence of these terms only indicates how often participants referenced these ideas. They do not provide nuance or capture distinctions that emerged within the interviews. Instead, the key concepts that emerged as part of the second analysis led to additional exploration as part of the third research question.

Exploring Themes in Cannabis and Criminology

 Identifying and exploring themes in the data demanded a familiarity with the literature and current efforts to organize existing research. This process also benefited from past efforts to categorize and connect major criminological theories based on ontological assumptions, epistemological conventions, and assumptions of human nature (Heidt & Wheeldon, 2015; Wheeldon et al., 2014). For example, concepts like education, normalization, and stigma fit within a focus on cannabis and social change. Concepts related to policing, police resources, and the war on drugs also belong together. To consider race and ethnicity, disparate treatment by the justice system, race, and ethnicity, and stop and search were combined. Understanding the economics of cannabis use meant considering cost, markets, and sales. Finally, criminal behavior and cannabis use included references to addiction, crime, and cannabis-impaired driving. Thematic areas emerged first from a process designed to link concepts, terms, theories, and cannabis research, presented in table 3.


Table 3: Thematizing Terms, Concepts, and Cannabis Research

Concepts

Theory

Citations

Thematic Area

Addiction

Bio-Social Criminology

Askari et al., 2021; Mennis et al., 2021; Philbin et al., 2019

Crime and Criminal Behavior

Cost

Deterrence

Cowan, 1986; Lawson & Nesbit, 2013; Mahamad et al. 2020

Economics of Cannabis Use

Crime

Psychological Theories

Chang & Jacobsen, 2017; Lu et al. 2021

Crime and Criminal Behavior

Driving

Biological

Pearlson et al., 2021; Sewell et al., 2009

Crime and Criminal Behavior

Education

Labeling

Hathaway, 2004; Newhart & Dolphin, 2019; Watson et al., 2019

Law, Society, and Social Change

Policing

Strain

Owusu-Bempah & Luscombe, 2021; Stohr et al., 2020

Police and Policing

Potency

Rational Choice Theory

Clarke & Cornish, 1986; Thornton, 1998

Economics of Cannabis Use

Market

Routine Activities Theory

Heidt, 2021; Kjellberg & Olson, 2017; Sandberg, 2012

Economics of Cannabis Use

Medicalization

Psychological Theories

Dragone et al., 2017; Lu et al. 2021

Law, Society, and Social Change

Medicine

Labeling

Black, 1976; Garland, 2001; Newhart & Dolphin, 2019

Law, Society, and Social Change

Normalization

Labeling

Cody, 2006; Parker, 2005; Young, 1971

Law, Society, and Social Change

Racism

Biological / Psychological Positivism

Goff et al., 2014; Owusu-Bempah & Luscombe, 2021

Race, Ethnicity, and Justice

Sales

Rational Choice Theory

Clarke & Cornish, 1985; Osborne & Fogel, 2017; Thies, 2012

Economics of Cannabis Use

Stigma

Conflict

Brewster, 2017; Reid, 2020; Seddon & Floodgate, 2020

Law, Society, and Social Change

War on Drugs

Social Control

Balko, 2014; Murch, 2015

Police and Policing


Following this effort to link concepts in ways that were criminologically-informed, a second strategy included transforming these concepts into crucial areas of research. Based on Table 3, we transformed these areas into broader thematic areas that could be connected to criminological theories. Table 4 outlines this transformation and posits immediate areas of focus based on findings from the re-analysis of key terms reported in Table 2.

Table 4: Cannabis Criminology and Key Areas


Thematic Area

Key Concepts

Immediate Focus

Law, Society, and Social Change

Education

Medicine/Medicalization

Normalization/Stigma

Lack of education

Responsible use

Sustained stigmatization

Police and Policing Cannabis

Policing

Resources

War on Drugs

Resources

Enforcement

Illicit Markets

Race and Ethnic Justice

Disparate treatment

Racism

Stop and Search

What accounts for no reference to this concept or related terms?

The Economics of Cannabis Use

Cost

Potency

Market/Sales

Taxes

Quality

Inclusion

Cannabis Use and Crime

Addiction

Crime

Driving

Violence

Public Disorder

Impaired Driving

Law, Society, and Social Change

 Research on law and society often attempts to explain the formation and activities of criminal law and the criminal justice system. Social control here refers to "the normative aspect of social life, or the definition of deviant and the response to it, such as prohibitions, accusations, punishments, and compensations" (Black, 1976: 1–2). Within cannabis research, this includes the role and value of education and prevention programs (Watson et al., 2019), normalization (Parker, 2005), and stigma (Reid, 2020).

A recurring theme in the interviews was the link between a lack of education and reliable information and the responsible use of cannabis. Respondents raised consistent concerns about the lack of credible information about cannabis in various areas. Insiders interviewed before legalization hoped the province would invest in education. They stated, “As far as creating a policy, we need responsible use and education. Educate the community how to use.” An insider said: “We really need to invest in [the] education part of this. I don’t think we have done nearly enough….” Another insider suggested: “we need to do is to take all the money we are spending on enforcing this and put it into education.”

A year after legalization, some stated that there was still a need for “more accuracy in public education...” Others advised that there was little to no information about how cannabis can be used in a healthy way, and some programs “are using stereotypes and… demonizing it…” Another insider stated, “I definitely think there could be more education and more based on positive effects of cannabis as opposed to negative because there’s a hell of a lot more positives than negatives.” A cannabis insider noted that:

I would say there are people who don’t respect it when they use it. If you respect a drug when you use it, you understand how much to use to get a certain effect and actually have a decent high and not hurt yourself or anyone else. But I feel like people won’t look into it; it will be like alcohol where people just do it because it’s OK to do and it is legal, and they aren’t thinking that this was recently illegal and there are things that can go wrong.

 Some were even more direct. For example:

A few of my friends have pulled up some of the [public awareness] commercials that have been broadcast, and I think they were all idiotic. Every single one has not been displayed properly to the public. They have had wrong and demonizing statements...leads to psychosis? It’s not true and it’s not right.

 The persistence of stigma appeared again in all interviews but explicitly in the post-legalization study. For example, some participants suggested that more information would challenge the stigma associated with using cannabis, including for medical use. A reduction in stigma was mentioned as a benefit of legalization. An insider stated, “The stigma is lifting. That’s really about the only benefit I see from legalization. The tide is turning as far as public opinion.” Others were also hopeful. A cannabis insider and business owner stated:

If anything, I think that as more knowledge gets out there as it becomes more conversational, that it will probably be used in a better way than it was before. Anytime you have an illegal product, and you don’t have people talking about it, you have dangers that come through lack of information.  And, of course, from lack of information comes fear, and I think that is what is driving a lot of the concern about the negative influence of cannabis.  We just haven’t had enough public discussion.

 Others were dubious that much change had occurred a year on.

A participant who used cannabis reported, “…the stigma is still the same. Oh, it's addicting; you’re a dopehead. All this sort of stuff is still about the same.” Another user stated: “…there’s still a stigma. People still go ‘eww pot,’ like it's some bad thing. Excuse me, the cigarette in your frickin’ face is far more dangerous than the doobie I got in mine.” An insider was more circumspect. They stated:

It’s a little sad when it comes to the fear of those you know wanting to use it … but they can’t because of their job or a potential job opportunity…it’s the stigma amongst those probably older than the Millennial Generation. Young people say that their parents are stuck with the notion that it's evil or it is going to lead to addiction and other drugs.

 Other insiders connected this stigma and generational shifts. For example:

I think it has changed for sure, for sure.  I think that the older demographic is starting to realize that no, this isn’t the “devil’s lettuce,” this isn’t going to hurt you.  Edibles now being a thing where you can trust it and they can be regulated, once those products are on the market, that will change the perception big time…  Like I said, the cultural shift in general of the Western world is doing a lot more than even what legalization has done. 

I do think there is a need for education out there. The stigma has to go. And it will eventually, but it will take time. There are too many people who spent their whole lives with these ideas… Cannabis is used by hippies and stoners – the dregs of society. It's going to take time. Unfortunately, I think it will be after the baby boomers have passed. The next generation will come up, and it will be normal.

 The stigma around cannabis use will continue to diminish as more jurisdictions liberalize policy; however, it is likely that conceptions of stigma and stereotypes will persist and evolve for many years. Stigma will be prolonged by the tendency of governments to embrace public health goals that are rooted in a prohibition mindset and by limiting cannabis markets (Wesley & Murray, 2021). If this emphasis is too extreme, it may bolster illicit cannabis markets and relink cannabis and other more dangerous illegal drugs.  This will serve to complicate efforts to reform the policing of cannabis markets.

Police and Policing Cannabis

Research on policing and cannabis often focuses on the role of systematic racism (Blau & Blau, 1982), police militarization (Kraska, 2001), Stop and Frisk searches (Gelman et al. 2007) and police legitimacy (Tyler et al. 2014). Within the re-analysis, responses focused on policing often emerged in the post-legalization study. Common responses focused on changing approaches to cannabis and specifically the “movement away from criminalization….” For example:

We have the police chiefs coming out and saying that they realize it’s time to decriminalize drugs…. we’re past it, and it's accepted even the police are calling for decriminalization, so it’s been a catalyst for a softening approach to drug laws.

 Some insiders viewed this as allowing “better use of [police] resources.” Indeed, several participants mentioned that police resources formerly used on cannabis could now be focused on other more serious forms of crime:

…free up police resources and start focusing more on violent offenses… [this] will also lead to less incarceration, and streets will be safer in the end because police can focus on violent crime rather than chasing down pot smokers; this is a more effective use of tax dollars. We can focus efforts to catch violent offenders.

 Others raised questions about the limit of 30 grams placed on the possession of cannabis in public.  In addition, some questioned why one could buy as much alcohol and as many cigarettes as they desired, given that both are more dangerous than cannabis:

How much ginseng can we possess?  Or echinacea?  Or alcohol?  Or even tobacco? They haven’t put any regulations on these things.  No, there shouldn’t be limits.  I mean, if we are going to legalize it, we need to legalize it.  So, I think 30 grams is ridiculous… Both recreational and medical should be unlimited.  

Thirty grams seems arbitrary because you can buy how many cases of beer?  If you go to a wedding and buy all the booze or how many growlers can you fill up?  I just don’t know why…it’s the same in the states. You can have about an ounce.  What’s really going to happen?  [So] the police will catch you with an ounce and half.  Are they going to arrest you? 

 Finally, respondents recognized that legalization had simply changed the nature of policing. One insider asked in terms of threshold limits: “how do you regulate and enforce something like this? Are the police going to carry around scales?” Focusing less on cannabis street crime and directing efforts toward the illicit market created other problems. One insider was worried about how cannabis would be treated where other offenses had occurred. For example:

We know that some houses are transfer stations for illicit cannabis that eventually goes to illicit stores. It puts some challenges on police if we go to a house for domestic assault and see 30 pounds of weed sitting there. There’s no right answer, but we have to be careful of unintended consequences.

 Police respondents referred to the rise of the grey market with one saying:

The other concern is about personal production. They are talking about four plants per house.  That’s not organized crime …, but we will see a new breed of trafficker.  People will be able to produce a lot more than they can consume.  I think it’s about 150 grams of dried product for indoor plants or 250 grams for someone what they’re doing for an outdoor plant...So, our concern is that you will see neighborhood dealers.

The legitimate, legal cannabis needs to be cheaper and higher quality than black market. Look at a regular weed smoker, why would they buy from a dispensary that is charging $12 or 14 per gram when they can get it from a buddy down the road for $10? They need to create a regulatory framework that will allow producers to produce a price point where they can profit.

 This statement is somewhat prophetic if one considers that it was made in the initial study that was conducted in 2018. It echoes concerns raised by dispensary owners about the high cost and availability of legal cannabis in British Columbia.

The Economics of Cannabis Use

 The assumptions that underlie rational choice perspectives have long been the dominant means of understanding illicit exchanges; however, various critiques have emerged (Childs et al., 2020). While applying rational choice theories to cannabis use is not without problems (Sandberg, 2012), logical approaches to reduce, prevent, and control crime can be used to understand how illicit markets operate.  Key terms associated with cost and markets were most prevalent and insights about regulation, taxation, price, and potency emerged from this research.

Questions of price, quality, and access are relevant in trying to understand if and how legal cannabis can outperform demand within existing illicit markets for cannabis.  Many of the interviewees in the first study stated that they felt cannabis would be over-regulated, resulting in higher prices. There is a temptation amongst policymakers to place higher taxes on cannabis to pay for the initial costs of implementing legalization. Unfortunately, this can feed the black market. This view was a common one. One of the insiders commented:

I don’t think out of the starting gate that this will be an economic windfall for the government. … Government is notorious for raising taxes. I think down the road, we will see a gradual progression in increases in taxation. My initial concern is that I don’t want to see the government price themselves out of the marketplace….

 Many of the participants also felt that people with substantial knowledge of cannabis were ignored, resulting in many missed economic opportunities:

The black market has actually faired very well because of the quality of cannabis.  The price is far too high in the stores to compete with the black market.  I think that…the quality is questionable with regulated cannabis. I personally experienced very low-quality cannabis for very high prices, and that encourages people who have always used to go back to the black market where they have a known product.  Unfortunately, the government has too many rules, or they do not recognize the expertise of peer growers who have grown all along, and I think the government would be wise to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge …  We should be relying on that expertise and dropping all of those criminal records and putting good use to skills and making citizens productive members that are crime-free.  The government failed to take advantage of the many opportunities for employing unemployed people.

 This was related to concerns about excluding small craft growers from the legal market. Some saw it coming. “I saw this train going off the rails. They built this whole framework and just left it to dry...[there] needs to be a fast track for some craft operations.” Another identified the challenges of entering the legal market.

They originally spoke about this fair market, but it’s been monopolized essentially. You have to have deep pockets... I think they’ve taken steps back instead of taking steps forward. It’s become more of a monopoly, trying to monopolize the market.

 Despite the implicit recognition that criminalizing cannabis was an error, the stain of criminal records was seen as an impediment to joining the cannabis industry. An insider noted:

You will never get into this system if you have any illegal ties. So, it’s a complete framework for Mas and Pas who want to establish their own craft businesses, their own micro licenses, and right when these council members see this, they see, oh do you want to have legal grow ops in your communities? No way!

 This is a problem for some craft growers who operated when cannabis was illegal and may have a criminal record. One issue is cannabis quality. As one insider noted:

One thing I am worried about is the LPs [Large-Scale Producers]. Like this is a craft in B.C., it is truly a craft. Our dispensary, or the way we see it is, bring the best product to the table...If we start with pesticides and GMOs, I mean everything we have done so far has been under regulation which is fine.  But are we losing the actual craft of it and opening up that can of worms where it will no longer be done the natural way. You may lose focus on quality in favor of profit. Some products are good, and demand for them will be high. The quality will go down as you try to satisfy the demand.  It’s a craft, so the resources aren’t there, and you lose the quality.

 Ironically, this may be feeding the very industry the government hoped to curb

…the large producers building their monopoly at the expense of the small farmer. That’s what kept the illegal market going. The inability [to get] the craft product onto the retail store shelves is why the black market is happening.

 An insider and dispensary owner voiced this concern:

I think the biggest thing is that everybody has an equal opportunity to thrive in this industry.  If people can meet the regulations that they put forth, everybody should have a chance.  There’s this whole thing about monopolies and everything. They always stand up for the monopolies and government-run stuff.  I don’t think that’s fair.  You see craft breweries and craft wineries. Why not craft cannabis?  It doesn’t always have to be industrial and commercial.  Everyone should have a fair go at it.  

 Cannabis Use and Crime

 The fact that cannabis prohibition has existed for a century means that simply possessing cannabis meant that one was engaging in criminal behavior for most of our lives. A central criminological paradox is that cannabis policy has created criminals from otherwise law-abiding people. Beyond the legal status of cannabis, however, the connections between cannabis and crime are tenuous. In Canada, the implementation of the Cannabis Act in Canada (2018) is associated with decreases of 55%–65% in cannabis-related crimes among male and female youth (Callaghan et al., 2021). In 2020, crime rates in Canada fell by nearly 10%, while the crime severity index fell by almost 8%.12 This is consistent with other research that crime did not increase in jurisdictions that legalized and regulated cannabis (Lu et al., 2019). Concerns remain.

While terms related to the concept “crime” decreased slightly in the second study, few participants in either study mentioned increasing rates of mental illness, psychosis, crime, or violence as major concerns around adult cannabis use following legalization. Instead, people who use cannabis and cannabis insiders reported that cannabis caused people to be more relaxed.  An insider and counselor reflected on the suggestion that cannabis would increase violence:

I haven’t seen anything in the way of violence…it’s not a…you got to understand the properties of cannabis, and the properties are not ones that lead people to violence. It leads people away from violence.  You’re more apt to slow your reaction down.  Like normally, if you’re the type of person that your knee-jerk reaction was to punch somebody or get physically violent, it stops you and makes you think about it a second, and it gives a person more empathy towards other people. It’s definitely not something that has increased violence …I think that is just propaganda.

A former cannabis dispensary owner shared his experience with violence.

 I disagree with the idea that it causes psychosis and violence.  You’ll see a decrease in violent crime.  We had a café years ago, and it was an open cannabis lounge. We sold cannabis there, people could bring their cannabis there, people were smoking joints in there, people were doing high concentrate dabs in there…there was a decrease in general thefts in the area.  We were so proud of it the whole time. We never really saw any violence.  We’ve socialized and done business with thousands and thousands of people and seen them using products, and never once did we ever have to call the police because of somebody’s behavior in any establishment.

 Public disorder and crime resulting from the use of cannabis were of little concern to either group in either study. For example, one police officer noted few calls to dispensaries before legalization. However, another officer surmised that crime patterns might change in more nuanced ways even though crime rates may not go up generally:

I don’t see crime going up, particularly. It’s not the kind of drug like opioids where people have to commit crimes to sustain a habit.  We are concerned about robberies and break and enter into dispensaries and stores.  We saw this spike in other places like Colorado and Washington State.  The commodity is so valuable. 

 One concept that increased among people who use cannabis and cannabis insiders related to cannabis-impaired driving. Some insiders considered this in historical terms.

…police have been enforcing impaired driving since 1923 or something like that, so the traditional tools still work and stand in terms of cannabis. It’s not that cannabis impaired driving wasn’t enforced before. So, the tools are sort of coming up to par. The Federal Government has just released a second tool that the police are able to access and use, so that’ll be tested, and police forces will see if that’s sort of a better tool for them to use.

 A service provider noted the differences in cannabis tolerance and how this relates to driving:

I have some questions about drinking and driving versus smoking weed and driving. Some people who smoke frequently develop a tolerance, and I question how much they’re affected when they’re driving versus someone who has no tolerance to it, who might, youth call it, “greening out.” If they haven’t built up a tolerance and they smoke off the marijuana that’s around, it gets them wasted…so they wouldn’t be able to drive. I have some questions about the harms and unforeseen consequences from that.

 This issue has emerged in other contexts and is a central public policy issue (Pearlson et al., 2021). Two police officers raised other concerns:

Drugged driving is another thing we are concerned about.  It’s not a new problem, we know that people consume cannabis and have driven when they shouldn’t, but I think it’s something we need to make sure we are very on top of and address…We really need to invest in education part of this.  I don’t think we have done nearly enough; I know the federal government has done a few things about youth and drugged driving.  I think this is where we need to reinvest.

Another concern is road safety.  I am not sure that we know how to analyze people who are under the influence. I know that they have roadside screening devices in places like CO, but there just hasn’t been that much research that I am aware of.  It doesn’t appear there’s much research on how much you can have in your system and how impaired you are on the roadway…How do we understand it in relation to road safety?

Some participants were more circumspect:

I think that the driving concern warrants further study. I do not think marijuana impairs long-term, chronic users. I think it's been funny that since marijuana’s been legalized, a lot of society was worried about all these impaired drivers, and it hasn’t changed. That’s because people who smoke pot have always driven, and they drive like they do now. There is no increase in impaired driving with the introduction of marijuana laws.

Others expressed related concerns about how to assess impairment. For example:

 Everything has to be within reason. I don’t want the police to have a one size fits all – if you got any cannabis in your system, then you’re gonna be charged with impaired driving...I don’t think that’s fair. I think there could even be a charter challenge with that...it would cover keeping patients from their medicine.

I think if you’re going to have roadside testing in place and you test medical patients for cannabis, you need to do the same for people's prescriptions. You can’t target some people and not others. There are people driving around on oxy, crystal meth, special K...very heavy drugs.

 Finally, one respondent linked cannabis impaired driving with an earlier finding around the need for more and better education and prevention programs.

… in terms of education and policing, we have a really significant issue in terms of how to try to shift those attitudes, that you know, cannabis doesn’t make you a better driver, if you’re driving slower, you’re not a better driver, your perception and abilities are hampered if you’ve been using cannabis.

Race, Ethnicity, and Cannabis Legalization

Our findings provoked some confusion regarding the lack of reference to justice disparities related to race or ethnicity. This has been one of the most consistent findings in the literature for decades (Wheeldon & Heidt, 2022). While one participant did reference ethnicity, this was about outreach rather than disparate enforcement. This person stated:

I think they’re completely missing people who don’t speak English. There should be a much more concerted effort in the ethnic communities in this country who have different views of drug policy...I think, they have done a very poor job communicating with pockets of opposition to the policy. People who still remain to be convinced largely out of fear...

Understanding why race did not emerge is important. In general, while Canada is not immune to the structural racism that exists elsewhere, some claim it is not a feature of the justice system in the same way. In the U.S., the war on drugs has been applied unequally by “separating out, subjugating, imprisoning, and destroying substantial portions of a population, based on skin color" (Glasser, 2000: 723). However, in Canada, a different population has faced disparate treatment and over-representation in the criminal justice system (Clarke, 2019).

It is worth noting that while most participants in both were white, approximately a quarter of the participants were not. Thus, the likelihood that the lack of references to race or ethnicity was a result of the “blinding effect” on race is possible, but unlikely.13 We conducted additional analysis to assess whether any references to “First Nations,” “Indigenous,” or “Native” existed within the data. While they did not, future cannabis research in Canada should explicitly consider how best to engage with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit populations, consistent with the TCPS 2 ethics framework.14 This would ensure more voices caught up in the past criminalization of cannabis are heard and acknowledged and that future policy can be guided based on the insights of people who “…are directly impacted by drug policies” (Ritter, 2021:10).

Discussion and Limitations

When organized through a criminologically-informed framework, these findings can frame future research on post cannabis prohibition research. Consistent with criminology’s numerous dimensions, four research areas emerged through this research. These include law, society, social control, police and policing cannabis, the economics of cannabis use, cannabis use, and criminal behavior. One immediate observation is that even in the world’s largest legal cannabis market, legalization and regulation have not confronted stigma, transformed policing strategies, or disrupted illicit markets. Part of these failures is the power of criminal justice systems to subvert, rather than embrace, reform. The principle that reform often results in illusory alterations was explored in the work of Cohen (1979; 1985). Cohen argued that reforms may result in less punitive outcomes but often reproduce within the community the very same coercive features of the older carceral system. This transference inevitably required additional and more expansive forms of control.

Reforming cannabis policy may result in governments that expand regulation into areas previously managed by penal forms of power (Aaronson & Rothschild-Elyassi, 2021). This observation emerged in the four themes identified through this research. For example, in terms of law, society, and social change, this can be observed in the continued risk-based messaging that informs cannabis education programs (Watson et al. 2019: 472) which “does not resonate with how many youth experience cannabis use.” It also relates to the persistence of stigma. This applies to those who use cannabis and extends to those who study it. Indeed:

Over the past century, cannabis users have been routinely characterized in negative and stigmatizing ways…Framing users through a lens focused only on harm has mattered greatly for how the public perceives cannabis and its place in society…(Newhart & Dolphin, 2019: 18).

In Canada, Reid’s work (2020) on stigma, normalization, and shame extends previous work on stigma to consider how it may operate on different explanatory levels. This focus requires an explicit inclusion within future studies on cannabis as it moves out from the shadows.

A focus on policing suggests another way in which carceral tendencies overwhelm policymaking. Some municipalities in B.C., specifically Richmond and Surrey, in the months following cannabis legalization, chose to either ban or not allow cannabis dispensaries with the hope of limiting consumption in their communities. Some areas have also introduced stricter public smoking regulations with more severe penalties (Shepherd, 2018). Threshold limits still apply in areas with dispensaries and possession of more than 30 grams could result in criminal prosecution and punishments that range from fines to 5 years (less a day) in prison. While possessing any illicit cannabis is still a criminal offense, it is not clear whether this will be enforced by frontline officers, whose views on cannabis vary (Stohr et al., 2020).15

The economics of cannabis use provides another window into other more subtle forms of control. States have adopted several adaptive strategies to extend authority over legal cannabis (Aaronson & Rothschild-Elyassi, 2021), such as limiting access to licenses, pursuing policies that undermine small growers, or preventing access to new products. An immediate concern is how cannabis regulation may sustain rather than disrupt illicit cannabis markets. For example, in B.C., several large municipalities, most notably Richmond, and Surrey, currently have no legal stores, allowing cannabis delivery services, illegal stores, and grey market growers to fill the void (Ballard, 2020; Corbett, 2021; Fumano, 2021).

While applying rational choice theories to cannabis use requires care (Sandberg, 2012), logical approaches to reduce, prevent, and control crime can be used to understand how illicit markets operate and how consumers are responding to legal cannabis (Clarke & Cornish, 1986). Ensuring public safety by disrupting illicit markets may mean embracing market thinking, the opposite of approaches taken to date. Wesley & Murray (2021: 1080) note that in Canada a “demarketing approach toward cannabis sales,” has been taken which suffers from a “…lack of attention to displacing the illicit market may have long-term ill effects on public safety.”

An example of the ever-shifting carceral continuum is how despite the absence of any solid evidence that cannabis-impaired driving would rise, fears of deadly crashes caused by legal cannabis permeated the narrative. In the U.S., for example, despite laws criminalizing driving under the influence (DUI), many states have proposed or enacted another layer of law explicitly pertaining to cannabis and driving (Compton, 2017). In B.C., Brubacher and colleagues (2019) found no increased risk of crash responsibility in drivers with 2 to 5 ng/ml of THC in their blood.  

In a recent review on driving and cannabis, Pearlson and colleagues (2021) distinguish between areas where research has provided clear answers to the above questions and areas that remain unclear. They acknowledge that cannabis-impaired driving is a risk. However, they note that skewed, agenda-driven reporting has undermined this area of inquiry. Finally, in a recent analysis of experimental studies on cannabis impairment and driving, White and Burns (2022) found that many of the existing studies have “failed to demonstrate any impairment at all in regular users of cannabis” (pg. 1). Rather than relying on scientifically suspect blood THC levels to gauge impairment or unproven roadside sobriety tests, they suggest expanding public health campaigns, which require engaging stigma, providing credible information, and describing use in ways that temper the sole focus on risk-based messaging (Watson et al. 2019).

Several limitations constrain our research. Secondary analysis of qualitative cannabis research is still emerging, and efforts to address concerns about transparent analysis led to rudimentary qualitative counting techniques and reporting a group of people who use cannabis, despite the small number of participants who self-identified as such. Likewise, while both studies took place in B.C., they focused on different participants in different places and asked related but not identical questions. Future researchers might seek to identify participants and interview them before and after cannabis legalization to see how expectations were (or were not) met. Some readers may doubt the value of reporting a small subgroup of participants who use cannabis.  While ethics approval to seek out people who use cannabis was not granted, some participants did disclose this information. In this paper, we chose to include this group to assess patterns between people who used cannabis and other cannabis insiders and to model the need to privilege these views, when possible, rather than bury their perspectives within larger categories of respondents.

Methodologically, two studies comprising 41 participants will never be generalizable to any B.C. community, let alone the province of British Columbia or Canada itself. While no serious qualitative research aspires to such heights, otherwise competent scholars often confuse qualitative research's nature, goals, and applicability, with assumptions drawn from the unconscious adoption of quantitative and other integer-driven frames. Likewise, although combining classical and grounded approaches within one study assisted to clarify aspects of secondary analysis, qualitative traditionalists may find such mundane techniques as “counting” distasteful. We do not discount this concern, especially given contemporary criminology’s numeric emphasis. In this case, we favored reflexive transparency over epistemological purity.

In terms of transparency and in the spirit of reflexivity, there is one additional acknowledgment that we feel compelled to include. This paper emerged from a broader project on Cannabis Criminology (Wheeldon & Heidt, in press). The themes that are reported in this project have guided subsequent and additional conceptual work that seeks to link criminological theories, cannabis research, and international development, and has led to specific proposals related to the future of cannabis policy. Owing to the vagaries of ethics approval, peer review, and production schedules, this paper may be published after work that it inspired.

Implications

 This paper modeled an ethically informed evaluation of secondary data analysis (SDA) of qualitative cannabis data and sought to demonstrate how keyword analysis can guide more exploratory efforts to identify qualitative themes. We agree that SDA provides many opportunities for furthering:

…research through replication, re-analysis and re-interpretation of existing research. It provides researchers with opportunities to engage in work to test new ideas, theories, frameworks, and models of research design (Johnston, 2017: 624).

 However, this approach to secondary analysis requires additional transparency to address the  challenges of utilizing existing data, the distinct characteristics of secondary analysis, and mitigates potential ethical entanglements, especially where cannabis use remains criminalized.

We contend that assessing cannabis in terms of culture, policy, and regulation requires embracing criminology’s multidisciplinary character. This includes analysis within thematic areas such as Law, Society, and Social Change; Police and Policing Cannabis; Race and Ethnic Justice, the Economics of Cannabis Use; and Cannabis Use and Crime. This research did not uncover concepts related to one of the most common findings in cannabis research, namely that criminalizing cannabis disproportionately impacted certain racial minorities. Despite this, we consider this area notable by its absence. Police data from Canadian cities (including Vancouver) demonstrate that historic racial differences in rates of arrest for minor cannabis possession existed before legalization (Owusu-Bempah & Luscombe, 2021). Such analysis must continue.

While the themes that emerged from the data in this paper may guide the future study of cannabis within criminology in a variety of ways, three issues emerge as of immediate relevance. The first is the persistence of stigmatization. This was reported by participants and has been demonstrated through a review of educational material from Canadian provinces and territories, which continue to promote “messaging that is predominantly infused with traditional risk-based rhetoric about cannabis” (Watson et al. 2019: 474). Stigmatization cannot be divorced from the policing of cannabis and the focus on public health first and access second (Aaronson & Rothschild-Elyassi, 2021). More work should consider the ways in which illusory reform, identified by Cohen (1979; 1985), perpetuates what it claims to supplant. Without considering how stigma operates on multiple explanatory levels (Reid, 2020), more profound reforms may prove difficult to achieve.

The second issue is the failure of cannabis legalization to disrupt illicit markets. This fact has been widely reported but insufficiently framed. Participants linked challenges to legal cannabis using commercial referents. Some focused on the insufficient quality of products that were less potent than those that people had become accustomed. One respondent worried that governments had allowed cannabis to be sold at costs that tended to “…price themselves out of the marketplace.” Numerous challenges remain related to branding, advertising, and the difficulty of embracing market thinking within an area of public health prioritization (Wesley & Murray, 2021). Re-negotiating this emphasis may require more engagement with people who use cannabis and other insiders. In just one prophetic example, cannabis insiders suggested the need to attract craft growers in Canada to make the most of B.C.’s reputation. Belated, the province agreed. This year, the B.C. government announced a program to convince “…illegal cannabis growers to begin selling legally in an effort to squeeze out illicit marijuana from the marketplace.”16

A final issue concerns crime. Neither crime data from Canada nor other jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis suggest cause for concern. Likewise, no participants in this study expressed fear that legalization would lead to violent crime or public disorder. On the question of impaired driving, however, concerns did emerge. More research is required, especially on impairments resulting from mixing alcohol and cannabis (Brubacher et al. 2019; Pearlson et al., 2021). A central paradox is that the criminalization of cannabis has undermined public education efforts that can promote and sustain safe and responsible use. Cannabis policy remains linked to the “...most consequential case of social construction of the twentieth century” (Newhart & Dolphin, 2019: 241). While legalization may be inevitable, sensible regulation requires more than blowing in the wind. It means engaging populations once demonized, mocked, and ignored. This is important when developing cannabis policy and as part of efforts to design and conduct research in this area.

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Appendix One:  Interview Guide for Great Expectations Study

1.  What do you believe will be the negative side effects of the legalization of recreational cannabis?

2. What do you think the goals of cannabis regulation should be?  What expectations do you have after it has been criminalized?

3.  Do you feel that people should be able to grow cannabis plants in their homes? 

If no, please discuss your concerns/If yes, then what should the limits and regulations be?

4.  Do you think people should be able to use cannabis in public places (e.g., similar to tobacco smoking)?

If no, please discuss your concerns/If yes, then what should the limits and regulations be?

5.  Do you think there should be establishments where people can consume cannabis on-site (e.g., bars, cafes)?  If no, then why not? If yes, then what should the limits and regulations be?

6.  How do you feel edibles (e.g., drinks and foodstuffs containing high levels of THC) should be regulated?

7.  Do you believe advertising for cannabis-related products should be restricted?  If yes, how?

8. Do you believe branding for cannabis-related products should be restricted?  If yes, how?

9. In your opinion, what is the maximum amount of cannabis a person should be able to possess?  Why do you feel this way?

10.  Do you think cannabis should be sold in liquor stores?  Why or why not?

11. Do you think cannabis should be sold in private dispensaries? Why or why not?

Appendix Two:  Interview Guide for Tangled Up in Green Study

1.  In your view, has cannabis legalization created any problems or issues?

2.  In your view, have there been clear benefits resulting from cannabis legalization?

3.  Do you have any major concerns about cannabis legalization after one year?

4.  Some reports suggest that black market cannabis is still prevalent.  Do you believe the black market has been affected, and if so, how have they been affected?

5.  Have you noticed increases in public cannabis use since it was legalized?  Has this issue become worse than it was previously?

6.  In your opinion, what is the maximum amount of cannabis a person should be able to possess?  Why do you feel this way?

7.  Do you believe current efforts to offer honest education about cannabis are working?  If not, how can these be improved? 

8.  Do you feel British Columbia has enough licensed cannabis stores?  Are there too many, just enough, or too few?

9.  Do you believe the government has taken the proper approach to regulation?  In other words, in your opinion, are the regulations appropriate, too lax, or is cannabis over-regulated? 

10. How would you change the laws if you could?

11.  Do you believe the stigma about cannabis use has changed since legalization?  Or is it the same? 

12.  How do you think cannabis consumption has been impacted by legalization? (e.g., new users, more use, more prevalent use) 

Contributors

Jon Heidt is Associate Professor of Criminology at the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, Canada. Dr. Heidt has studied drug policy and criminological theories for over 20 years and has taught various courses at different academic institutions in British Columbia. He has coauthored several books including  Introducing Criminological Thinking: Maps, Theories, and Understanding and Youth Crime Prevention and Sports (with Yvon Dandurand). His work has appeared in the Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Criminology, Critical Criminology, and the Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Johannes Wheeldon has more than 20 years of experience working in criminal justice, including teaching in prisons, working with those deemed at high risk to re-offend, and designing, conducting, and managing justice reform projects worldwide. He has worked with the American Bar Association, the Canadian International Development Agency, the Open Society Foundations, and the World Bank. Wheeldon has published six books and more than 30 peer-reviewed papers on criminal justice, restorative justice, organizational change, and evaluation. He is an adjunct professor at Acadia University. In 2022, he edited: Visual Criminology: From History and Methods to Critique and Policy, published by Routledge. His new book Cannabis Criminology, with Jon Heidt, builds on some of the ideas in this paper.

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