A Media Analysis Snapshot
The ambitious Bill C-45 has opened a discussion in Canada’s community-based, multilingual media. Alongside the question of provincial authority is an uneasy face-off between the need to de-criminalize marijuana and the economic framework to regulate its activity. At the heart of it is a potential $5 billion industry, the future of which is ever more uncertain as the ambiguity of the bill expands.
The top influencers in the public and private sectors for and against this new industry are the ones that stand to make the most out of this legislation and its implementation, and may be interested in learning how their local ethnic communities are taking positions on pot, and devise plans to impact those opinions.
The multilingual ethnic media in Canada stories picked up by MIREMS have been busy exploring the many gaps in the proposed legislation, taking a close look at its discrepancies and potential pitfalls from their perspective. This overview shows how the legalization proposal launch is playing in the media of each cultural group. Data collected from this report includes 54 stories from 29 foreign language media outlets scanned by MIREMS over the last two weeks. A total of 39 items came from Chinese-language media, 4 from Russian-Canadian media, and the remainder equally divided among Tamil, Urdu, Greek and Tamil sources.
Coverage of the bill can be broken down in three main issues: implementation, social cost and de-criminalization. While the ethnic media coverage was in general critical of the decision to shift responsibility for the implementation to the provinces, the intention to de-criminalize pot was generally seen positively. However, the uncertainty fostered by the federal government on the task of regulating commercial use while discouraging criminal activity was viewed negatively from all sides.
Skepticism has been clear from the start on the Russian language coverage, while articles in Chinese-Canadian print were extensive, thorough and measured. The reaction from the Chinese-Canadian media has been both critical and supportive, exploring the contradictions of the bill in detail, but also highlighting the social benefits.
Chinese-Canadian media outlets (Dawa and Dushi) approach the legalization from both a market and a legislative angle. Dawa, for instance, focused on the links between marketing and law: ‘’If the government puts restrictions on product packaging, it would only help black market operators take over the market’’. Commentator Xiong Ya Li Wang You on 51.ca said the [proposed] legal age for marijuana use is even younger than the legal age to drink alcohol! ‘Potato's Liberal Party’ is planning to get Canadians high, by then who's going to remember the deficit, electricity, carbon tax, etc’’. Similarly, the question of proper labeling was explored by four stories in the Chinese print.
Sing Tao Vancouver noted the potential gap between the expected tax revenues from the legislation and the social costs incurred by the legislation, citing the U.S. State of Colorado, where the income generated by marijuana has been much lower than anticipated. La Presse Chinoise in Montreal noted that ‘’it will be illegal to drive within two hours of having an illegal level of drugs in the bloodstream, with penalties ranging from a $1,000 fine to life imprisonment depending on the level of drugs and whether someone was injured or killed as a result of the impairment.’’
Pablo A. Ortiz, from Noticias Montreal, echoes to a large extends the dominant feeling in Canada when he defines the bill as an ambiguous document leaving many unanswered questions. Lankaone, a Tamil-language media based in Toronto, wrote that Ontario was now facing a serious challenge as a result of the federal government’s decision to distribute the legislative responsibility to the provinces. A major issue to settle will be whether Ontario, where the legal drinking age is 19, will use the federal marijuana age limit of 18’’. BCbay similarily captured the Province of Quebec’s disappointment over the virtual shift of responsibility to the provinces, quoting Quebec’s Public Safety Minister who said Ottawa was ‘’tossing aside all the problems besides money to the provinces’’.
Social costs and impacts
Increased health problems resulting from the bill are a concern for Russian and Chinese media alike. Russian-Canadian outlet Torontovka wrote Canadian youth had not changed their habits regarding the drug’s use, while Psychiatric Association President Dr. Renuka Prasad said in a statement that early and regular cannabis use can affect memory, attention, intelligence, and the ability to process thoughts. Liao Zheng Ren from Sing Tao Vancouver noted that the federal government had stressed the importance of protecting teenagers in the bill. Dushi.ca wrote of a social worker who was told by young people smoking pot to simply leave them alone.
Toronto’s Vestnik and Torontovka, both Russian language print outlets, emphasized the healthcare aspect of the bill, noting the health issues related to continuous smoking. Vestnik in particular stressed the fact that the prison sentence for the sales of drugs to minors will be shortened to a maximum of one year. Stories from Urdu, Pashto and Tamil language sources picked up by MIREMS remained descriptive and showed little discussion over these issues. Salam Toronto (a Farsi-language newspaper) wrote that cannabis was a dangerous drug, quoting leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch, who promised to undo the bill if elected.
If there is one consensus emerging from the ethnic media, it is that in many regards the new bill lacks protective measures for youth. This is especially the case for Russian and Chinese media. Both communities picked up on the potential drawback of the bill on the drug’s attractiveness to teenagers. The Chinese community in Toronto was reported by 51.ca to question Bill Blair on the way the legislation would protect children and teenagers. Similarly, members of the Chinese community interviewed by 51.ca expressed the fear that this legislation might send the wrong message to young adults.
Chinese-Canadian media paid special attention to the question of a criminal record. One CFC article referred specifically to the fact that Justin Trudeau wanted teenagers to avoid criminal prosecution. A dominant question, however, was how current law would fill the gap for minors and drug dealers.
Amnesty was also a recurring theme in the Chinese language discussion. Will drug dealers and recurring users be offered a term reduction or an appeal as a result of the law? A good example is Prince of Pot Marc Emery, former owner of the Cannabis Culture dispensaries and Cannabis Culture magazine, who faces charges for possession and trafficking. He and his wife were arrested at the Pearson Airport and now await separate hearings. They are amongst those less supportive of the bill. As Marc Emery told CBC, the new bill includes neither a moratorium on raiding dispensaries nor pardons in drug conviction cases.
The Pakistan Times, Chinese Dushi, and the Cantonese program on CIRV FM 88.9 all echoed Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s unequivocal stance against an amnesty. Goodale said there’s no specific ‘’consideration of difficulties in obtaining pardons for marijuana convictions’’ (Pakistan Times).
These are the first off the cuff editorial opinion stories. MIREMS will continue to monitor this issue, because cultural attitudes towards cannabis will play a role in the practical implementation of the proposed legislation and the challenges it presents to all concerned parties.
In general, the initial ethnic media spin on cannabis legalization has been between cautious and virulent opposition, coupled with luke-warm comments, if any, on how legalization might benefit the fight against drug trafficking related crime, or even on the medical benefits of the product. Concerns regarding safe use from both a health and a public safety perspective related to mental impairment and safe driving are also on the list.
Stay tuned for more on this subject. There is a long year of public debate ahead.
MIREMS Media Analysis Team