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Marijuana is now legal in Canada
But Asian communities are grappling with a generational gulf when it comes to attitudes about the drug


When Hongkonger Andrea Tam first moved to Canada at the age of 16 in the early 90s, she was struck by the sheer size of the world’s second-largest nation – home to less than 37 million people and roughly 3,600 times the size of Hong Kong.

20世纪90年代初,16岁的香港人安德烈娅·谭(Hong Konger Andrea Tam)第一次搬到加拿大时,她被这个世界第二大国家的庞大规模所震惊-这个国家的人口不到3700万,面积大约是香港的3600倍。

Tam also found herself in awe of the sense of boundless freedom that accompanied the spaciousness.


“You would go to your high school and just walk outside; there were no school gates like in Hong Kong, no [guard] at the door,” she said. “You could leave anytime.”


“If you got caught smoking it at school you’d have to see the principal,” she said. “But it wasn’t treated like a bad drug.”


Michelle Lee (not her real name), a 33-year-old special needs teacher who works with primary and secondary school pupils in British Columbia, had her first experience with the drug after ingesting a batch of brownies she did not know contained cannabis during a school camping trip.


“Something wasn’t normal, I went into my tent and hid all night,” she said.


“Marijuana is actually really nice, much better than drinking – no side effects, you sleep like a baby and it makes food taste good.”


The Canadian government seems to agree. Under the federal Cannabis Act championed by Liberal Party Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada became the second country in the world to legalise the recreational usage and purchase of cannabis and related products. The newly legalised industry stands to generate up to C$6.5 billion (US$5 billion) in sales by 2020, according to Statistics Canada. In the neighbouring United States, where the drug can be legally consumed in nine states and used for medical purposes in 31, the industry grew to US$8.7 billion last year. Total North American spending on legal cannabis is expected to reach US$47.3 billion by 2027.

加拿大政府似乎同意。根据自由党总理贾斯汀·特鲁多(Justin Trudeau)倡导的“大麻法”,加拿大成为世界上第二个,将大麻及相关产品的娱乐使用和购买合法化的国家。根据加拿大统计局的数据,到2020年,这个新合法化的行业销售额将达到65亿加元(合计50亿美元)。在邻国美国,该药物可在9个州合法消费,并在31个州用于医疗目的。去年,该行业增长到87亿美元。北美在合法大麻方面的总支出预计到2027年将达到473亿美元。

Still, the mind-altering drug remains a symbol of the cultural divide between older generations of Asian-Canadian immigrants and their children.


Others say it is East Asia’s memories of past tragedies that make the drug so sensitive. Some Asian-Canadian immigrants grew up hearing stories about the opium wars, waged by the British from 1839 to 1842 after the Qing dynasty cracked down on its trade of the drug, which is estimated to have created up to 12 million Chinese opium addicts at the time.


“When I hear about marijuana legalisation, I think of the opium war,” said Doris Siu, a Chinese-Canadian in her late 40s. “I know there’s a difference, but this war made society unproductive and people lost everything and China went into a huge economic decline.”

当我听到大麻合法化的消息时,我想到了鸦片战争,”40多岁的华裔加拿大人桃瑞丝·苏(Doris Siu)说。“我知道这是有区别的,但这场战争使社会失去了生产力,人们失去了一切,中国进入了巨大的经济衰退。”

Robert Wu says his parents will never understand liberal attitudes about the drug.


Marijuana use is strictly punished in Asia. South Korea has warned its citizens not to consume the drug while abroad, with anyone returning with traces of the substance in their system at risk of up to five years in jail. Japan, where an estimated 1.3 million people have tried the drug, issued similar warnings earlier this month.


In Hong Kong, where drug trafficking can be punished with life imprisonment, 149kg worth of cannabis was seized in the first six months of 2018. In the same week that marijuana became legal in Canada, HK$7.5 million (US$950,000) worth of cannabis buds and oils were seized from a Tin Shui Wai flat. In mainland China, internet users have been airing their concerns about accidentally consuming marijuana-laced products while living or travelling in Canada, which had 682,000 Chinese visitors last year.


“Before it was legal, lots of people smoked pot, and those who smoked will continue smoking, law or no law,” she said. “But I think for others, legalisation actually means something really good. We still live in a country where citizens trust the government. If they deem it safe and legal, we think it’s safe and legal. And in today’s world, this is incredibly rare.”