Despite legalization, cannabis stigmas are more prevalent in Canada than America

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Legalizing cannabis doesn't automatically put an end to longstanding stigmas around marijuana use, according to Civilized's 2019 Cannabis Culture Poll, writes James McClure. Cannabis stigmas are often more prevalent in Canada than America even though the former repealed prohibition last October while marijuana remains banned for recreational use in the majority of US states.

For the poll, Civilized teamed up with PSB Research and Burson Cohn & Wolf to survey 1,000 Americans and over 600 Canadians about cannabis. One set of questions was designed to gauge their comfort level when it comes to being associated with or coming into close contact with cannabis.

The results found that more Americans than Canadians are comfortable with spending money at businesses that also sell cannabis products (63 percent vs. 59 percent). Americans are also more comfortable than Canadians when it comes to dating a cannabis consumer (53 percent vs. 50 percent), attending a social event where cannabis is being consumed (52 percent to 50 percent) and sharing a living space (e.g. an apartment) with someone who consumes cannabis (49 percent vs. 45 percent).

Of course, those numbers are awfully close, so the difference in comfort level might seem incidental. But you have to keep in mind how far apart the two countries are when it comes to cannabis policy. Recreational consumption is legal throughout Canada, but it's only permitted in 10 states in America, where the federal government still classifies marijuana as an illicit substance that has no medical value and is as dangerous as heroin. So given that there are no legal ramifications for trying a puff, it's surprising that the average Canadian is less comfortable about being near cannabis than Americans, who can land in jail if they get caught with a joint in the wrong state.

It's also surprising that Canadians are still uptight about cannabis creeping into their professional lives. Canucks are only slightly more comfortable than Americans with the idea of their boss consuming cannabis during her or his off hours (60 percent to 57 percent). Canadians are also about as uncomfortable as Americans when it comes to letting their financial advisor invest their money in cannabis equities (57 percent vs. 56 percent) or working for a company that is associated with the cannabis industry (56 percent to 55 percent). 

You might assume that those Canadians just aren't fans of cannabis, but even respondents who enjoy a joint now and then say they're uncomfortable with the idea of having a puff around certain members of their social circle. Roughly three-quarters (73 percent) of Americans say they're okay with consuming cannabis around coworkers (compared to 66 percent of Canadians). More than half of Americans (61 percent) are comfortable with enjoying a joint around a favorite teacher (compared to 53 percent of Canadians). And Americans are also more comfortable than Canadians when it comes to having a puff around their boss (56 percent vs. 43 percent support), their grandparents (55 percent vs. 39 percent support) or a religious leader (51 percent vs. 38 percent).

It's hard to imagine those same Canucks would be as squeamish about having a glass of wine around those same members of their community, or that they would be upset about having a roommate that enjoyed a beer now and then. So it's pretty clear that although cannabis is legal in Canada, hangups about cannabis consumption will linger like a bad smell for at least the foreseeable future.

The Cannabis Culture Poll is an annual study commissioned by Civilized in partnership with PSB Research and Burson Cohn & Wolfe. In March 2019, the poll surveyed 1,602 adults from coast-to-coast in the U.S. and Canada. The research groups, consisting of both cannabis consumers and non-users, were asked a variety of questions about their views about cannabis as well behaviors, habits, and personal experiences.

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