Happy legalization day, everyone. I look forward to not talking about this for a while.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m simply the latest person out there — and certainly not the first journalist — to succumb to cannabis fatigue. And that’s certainly a thing. I suspect absolutely everyone but the most passionate stoner has had enough of the topic — that includes the general public, industry experts, law enforcement personnel, journalists and our politicians. It’s been all-encompassing and, frankly, kind of exhausting.
But that’s not why I’m happy that legalization has come and gone. It’s not that I’m tired of talking about cannabis, per se. It’s that I think it’s important that we talk about other things, too.
The legalization of cannabis matters. It does. It’s not a non-event. Wednesday will go down in history. It’s a big deal, and it deserved much of the coverage it got. There’s also going to be a lot of stuff that can begin happening now that will also matter. We’ll all have to watch what happens with the U.S. border. The newly announced expedited pardon process for Canadians with prior convictions for minor possession offences will be important. And this is going to be a big deal in the business world as well. Fortunes will be made and lost. Jobs created. This stuff matters.
But as a guy who lives and breathes news, and does three hours live on the radio every day talking about news, it’s been hard to escape noticing these last few months that there hasn’t been much else in the news. There have been some other big stories getting a lot of play in Canada (or in my hometown of Toronto, in particular, of late). The NAFTA negotiations were big. Various spats between Ontario Premier Doug Ford and [insert chosen spat here] have been big — you can really take your pick of a few. But the news pipeline has definitely narrowed, and I think it’s getting narrower, faster, as time goes on.
Part of the explanation, I think, is that most news organizations in Canada are a lot smaller than they once were. There are fewer stories being published because there are fewer people around to write them. This has led to a shrinking of the number of stories that make it through to the public. I have a few old “antique” newspapers, including an edition of The Globe and Mail covering the Apollo 11 news landing. It’s absolutely massive — I mean physically, the damn thing’s huge — and packed with all kinds of different stories. This is, to put it mildly, not the nature of news coverage today.
And that’s why I’m glad legalization has come and gone. It’s important. I truly believe that. But it’s also been sucking all the air out of a pretty small room. And it occurs to me that while cannabis legalization is probably a topic that interests everyone, it’s probably only the most important topic for a handful of people in this country. For the rest of us, an admittedly intriguing sideshow has become the main event.
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I’m not going to tell you what I think the more important stories are, though I certainly have a few in mind. That’s not the point of this column. The point is this: if you were to tell me what you think the most important issue facing Canada and Canadians is today, every last one of you, I think there’s a damn good chance that it would be a more important issue, for more people most of the time, than legalization.
But for months, those stories haven’t been getting much attention. This isn’t good for us, long-term. Canada’s a great place to live, but like any machine, our federation needs maintenance. We can’t fix problems the public isn’t aware of or interested in. This is why journalism matters — it helps democracy function. (That’s the theory, at any rate.)
Cannabis isn’t going away. Neither are the news stories about it. And that’s fine. But hopefully, starting Wednesday, we can rationalize the plus-sized cannabis coverage so that it’s a bit more reasonable. This will leave a bit more room to talk about things that matter at least as much.
I, for one, am looking forward to that. I’m sure many of you are, too.
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