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Cannabis Insights From Canada’s Newcomers

by Arundati Dandapani
Published: Jan 02, 2020   
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At the tail-end of 2019, a one-of-a-kind cannabis workshop took place in Toronto. Largely attended by first-generation immigrants, the event aimed to bridge the gap between post-legalization cannabis in Canada and the country’s latest newcomers. It was the first of a series of events that we at Generation1.ca hope will combine the best of cannabis science with community conversations to elevate awareness of the plant among a niche segment of newcomers.

“This is the new consumer of today and tomorrow,” I said in my welcome address. “Understanding the diverse cultural backgrounds, rituals, and taboos we bring to the plant will help us shape not just better cannabis brands, but also integrate Canada’s newcomers’ diverse perceptions and attitudes in paving the way for breakthrough moments, experiences, and future interactions with the plant.”

The Plant Science: CBD, THC and PSAs

After the introductions, Ziad El Shourbagy, a community engagement specialist, launched into a deeply informative cannabis-101 style two-hour presentation on the fundamentals of cannabis and responsible consumption. 

Awareness levels remain low among all Canadians, and the presentation aimed to eliminate knowledge gaps when a whopping 70 percent of Canadians surveyed were somewhat or not sure of the difference between THC and CBD, according to Canada’s largest syndicated study of cannabis consumers Vividata Vivintel. An animated video illustrated key differences between the two principal cannabinoids (CBD offering a body buzz, THC offering a euphoric high), scratching just the surface of the hundreds of cannabinoids present in the complex plant that will hopefully be harnessed by brands in the future years of legal cannabis.

“You could choose to consume chocolate, talk to a friend, or consume cannabis,” joked El Shourbagy, suggesting that the dangers of cannabis were more concentrated in the lack of education and awareness than in perceived ill-effects of consumption.

The session also busted common cannabis myths and promoted responsible consumption; El Shourbagy advised attendees to choose the right product, be prepared ahead of time, and choose the right setting.

The Newcomer Lens

The educational presentation was followed by a group discussion around cultural perceptions, backgrounds, motivations, and barriers. These conversations centred around stigma and how social acceptability of cannabis is often defined by ethnicities and religious beliefs. Generational differences where also highlighted; many elders disapproved of the use of cannabis outright. Some claimed the North American openness towards cannabis was premised in modern day capitalism, pointing out that the main reason cannabis was now legal was so that more people could protect their earnings. Ethnic foreign-born consumers in Canada are 30 percent more likely than their native counterparts to have not used cannabis because of being unable to find a regular supply. This speaks to some very real supply-access issues being faced in a post-legalization world, especially in Ontario.

A Tanzanian who had moved to Canada at the age of six, did not report any differences in perceptions when compared with native-born Canadians, although he suggested his older siblings were morally and socially opposed to legal cannabis because of their heritage. Others tended to disagree, saying that the role of cannabis was not seen as central to the upliftment of citizens’ or consumers’ lives.

Consumption was acceptable among low-wage workers, social groups, at affluent parties in some upper echelons of society, but also the male plant hemp enjoyed higher popularity in its derivative forms as creams, oils, and other remedies for ailments. In Ukraine, one participant’s grandmother grew her own hemp-derived CBD and used it to make oils to cure her joint pain. A couple of Indian attendees referenced bhang (cannabis infused milk consumed at an annual Hindu festival), but even that was reported to be more of a covert ritual in groups or among households.

Newcomers to Canada who have arrived less than a year (131) or between one to two years (188) index the highest on not having used cannabis for fear of being judged by others. Across ethnic groups, the levels of perceived stigma vary according to Vividata. Latin and Central Americans are 110 percent more likely than the average Canadian to have not used cannabis out of fear of being judged by others, followed by those who belong to Chinese, Japanese, or Korean ethnic groups. Aboriginal, black, Filipino, and east Asian people indexed high on their motivations to consume cannabis for fun. Canadians of south and east Asian origins are 32 percent more likely than the native-born Canadians to use cannabis to treat mental health issues, according to Vivintel.

In Jamaica, Rastafarians use marijuana in their religious proceedings but abstain from consuming alcohol. Among other Jamaicans, cannabis seems accepted and understood because it’s grown there and is decriminalized but not yet legal. In Morocco, “hash is all over the place,” even if the middle and upper class largely stigmatized it. In Thailand, cannabis consumption was allowed medically, but not so long-ago possession could have landed anyone in prison.

Ultimately, there was a cornucopia of experiences and knowledge levels among attendees and a unanimous thirst for understanding the opportunity cannabis could bring to their lives, in what was deemed to be a “rise towards premiumization” as young affluent multicultural and cosmopolitan consumer professionals shaped the next wave of legal cannabis in Canada.

The evening’s discussions converged in a brand story for newcomers’ cannabis: one that seemed plural enough to represent the breadth and diversity of our planet, local enough to serve as a microcosm of young professionals in Toronto, and open enough to explore, engage and spread awareness of the plant’s science as it evolves in the legal market. The next event in this series will happen in the new year.

Arundati Dandapani is the founder and CEO of Generation1.ca, a cross-sectoral resource and outlet that taps into the outlook and experience of Canada’s newest residents.


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