On Tuesday, Canada became the second country, after Uruguay, to legalise the recreational use of marijuana at the national level. The move is, of course, welcome for “ending 90 years of needless prohibition and criminalisation”, as one Canadian lawmaker put it. But the question the rest of the world is asking is this: Do Canadians really need a little extra something, to take the edge off?
Now, if it had been the US — that polarised, contentious polity to the south of the Great Liberal North — the overwhelming need for the odd joint would be understandable. But even as the Donald Trump presidency has divided one chunk of North America, Justin Trudeau has made Canada appear the model of the accommodating liberal state. The current cabinet is a diverse one, in terms of gender, race and religion, the country has universal healthcare and the people are considered largely polite and well-liked. And then there’s Trudeau. The handsome champion of the global liberal order, an internationalist who respects the culture and traditions of all his people — from doing the bhangra to visiting mosques — and wears interesting socks. The humanitarian hunk has stood out in sharp contrast to the demagogues that now abound in the world, including by embracing refugees from Syria. He even does yoga. But despite how good they have it, or even because of it, Canadians may well need the slight adjustment in attitude marijuana provides.
The thing about mind-altering substances is that they don’t just provide an escape from misery, they also provide a way out of the ceaseless boredom of a lack of conflict. Canadians, tired of being the “good neighbours” held up in contrast to the US, can now become edgy within the bounds of law. Trudeau has said that with legal access, Canadians will no longer be supporting organised crime and effectively, marijuana will have the same status as tobacco. The prime minister, perhaps, does not know that the only reason anyone ever starts to smoke is to look cool.