During the 2018 election season, the ballot initiative was taken by the people of Missouri, Michigan, and Utah that will lead to some degree of marijuana legalization. The previously thought absurdity of a normalized marijuana community and/or industry seems to be fading away as the years go by.
The issue caused uproar across the United States even for strictly medical authorization in select states. Progressive states on the west coast have gone so far to codify cannabis for recreational use, however the stigma has been set up for long enough to the point where it was unsure whether or not particularly socially conservative states of the south and fly-over country would ever cross the threshold to permit use of marijuana in any practice.
Recently, dubbed the “green wave”, a major shift in the policy of red states, that uphold traditional culture on a pedestal has taken place, resulting in the progression of culture regarding minor issues on the national scale, marijuana legalization being one. For example, this past Wednesday, June the 9th, congressmen from both West Virginia and Kentucky introduced similar proposals, both calling on fellow lawmakers to allow the people of their respective states to retain the freedom of body autonomy. With the legalization of marijuana to any degree, the citizens gain the choice of what to do what they want to do to their own body.
State Senator Richard Ojeda (D) representing the 7th district of West Virginia, submitted a bill to permit adults aged 21 and over to grow, consume, or possess any amount of marijuana for medical or recreational users alike. SB143 outlines a seemingly radical idea to the conservative majority of West Virginia population, calling on Governor Jim Justice to (R), saying in the annual State of the State Address this past week that he is “adamantly, etched in stone, adamantly against recreational marijuana”.
With this no-nonsense policy of the state executive branch, the bill is not expected to pass through Congress in 2019, but the outcry of people from the general public has made major shifts in the way other states and their very own government look at the population of West Virginia. Although they were the only state to declare independence from the Confederate States of America in the Civil War, it is recognized as a Southern state in its culture and political appearance. With the introduction of this bill, discourse on the topic of marijuana is pushed to the forefront of congressional discussion in just about the most hard-right, red-run state in the USA, with 68.8% of who voted for Trump in 2016.
More or less in the same situation as West Virginia when it comes to Southern perception, Kentucky has taken a different approach to the cannabis issue, taking small steps to legalize it, instead of going full-out in one bill as West Virginia is attempting. Senator Dan Seum (D) is teaming up with Jason Nemes (R) and Diane St Onge (R) on HB136 that would allow doctors, at their own discretion, to prescribe medical marijuana to patients they see the best fit for the products. Governor Matt Bevin has been on record saying that he will sign off on a medical marijuana bill if it is regulated properly, especially for an industry with such a negative stigma.
The sponsors of the bill state that with the passing, the state could provide alternative can to combat side effects for conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Crohn’s disease, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The bill does not list any conditions but leaves that up to doctors to decide when to recommend it. “We’re trying to address the 40,000 to 60,000 Kentuckians who are not having symptoms addressed by conventional medicines,” St. Onge stated on Thursday, revealing a less radical approach to the issue, one that can speak to the conservative state easier.
The Green Wave
Other states have formulated plans on taking progressive steps towards varying levels of marijuana legalization, however, no solid legislation has been written in said states.
Missouri has already gained approval from the legislative committees needed, as they legalized medical marijuana in the past 2018 midterms as a ballot initiative. Representative Brandon Ellington (D) plans to go farther with this issue, with bills in the works to work towards decriminalization and eventually legalization. Texas legislators plan to propose a constitutional amendment to legalize all forms of cannabis; while New Jersey plans to do the same, gaining most of its support not from the House Representatives and Senators, but rather Governor Phil Murphy (D). Virginia could see the forward movement as well, with Governor Ralph Northam (D) on record backing in favor of progressive marijuana policies, stating that decriminalization could “ease overcrowding in our jails and prisons, and free up our law enforcement and court resources for offenses that are a true threat to public safety.”
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For decades, if not more, snowball fights have been a fun winter activity for children across the globe. But a Utah city is now taking a page out of Bomont’s book and banning a harmless activity.
This city, however, breaks from Footloose, as they allow dancing. Instead, they prohibit the throwing of snowballs within its borders.
According to AccuWeather, this particular law has been around for a long time. The city’s ordinances outline the details of the snowball ban. Specifically, codes 9.14.100-101 explain that “every person who shall throw…stick, snowball, or other missile whereby any person shall be hit…is guilty of a misdemeanor”.
Though obviously, law enforcement cannot catch every instance of snowball-throwing delinquents, they have responded to calls of the kids having too much fun.
Reactions to the Snowball Ban
In one instance, a woman called the police after kids accidentally hit her with a snowball. They arrived at the scene and he demanded to see their IDs, threatening to take them to the station. Eventually, though, he left and told them to work out the situation on their own.
Though many believe this law to be unjust or just plain obsolete, Provo city spokesman Michael Mower defended it. He stated that “sticks and stones can break people’s bones and sometimes we need to be able to prosecute that”. However, he did not cite anything that suggested a snowball is capable of breaking a bone or otherwise causing injury.
The citizens of Provo, particularly youth, take varying approaches to the snowball ban. Some have little regard for it, choosing to throw snowballs anyway. Still, others mock it in an innocent, and enjoyable fashion.
“I ran out in shorts and my hat…but evidently, throwing snowballs is literally against the law. We settled for snow bowling”, said one Mormon missionary, who prefers to remain nameless. “All it takes is a few beautifully crafted snow pins and a snowball for a good time”.
At this time, there is little discussion of changing the law, despite recent media attention.
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November 6th marks a turning point in the United States, as the elections will determine which party holds the majority in Congress for the next two years. What many people do not understand, however, is that voting for candidates to represent them will not be the only thing that occurs next Tuesday in booths across the county.
After voting on specific state and national Congressmen and Congresswomen, an alternate section in the voting booth will ask questions pertaining to major issues in the respective state, by voting on initiated state statutes. On the ballots for 2018, four states will mention either the legalization of recreational and/or medicinal marijuana. Among those four states are Missouri, Michigan, Utah, and North Dakota. These states are taking the initiative that we have seen in many other regions across the country.
Missouri is the most radical of the four, laying out a 54th section to Article IV of the state Constitution. The proposal would make amendments as follow:
“Cannabis shall immediately be removed from the Missouri list of controlled substances”.
“Remove state prohibitions on the possession, growth and sale of marijuana for personal or medical use by anyone 18 years and older.”
“Anyone under the age of 18 shall have access to cannabis through physician recommendation or consent from legal parent/guardian”.
“All prisoners who have been incarcerated for non-violent, cannabis-related crimes shall be released within 30 days, unless time remains on the sentence for another dissimilar offense”.
Under Amendments Nine and Ten of the US Constitution, Missouri will reserve its right to nullify any federal laws conflicting with this act. The state will also prohibit any state funds to be used to assist in DEA or any other federal agencies in marijuana offense enforcement.
With Michigan’s Proposal 1, the state would become the first state in the Midwest to legalize the possession and use of recreational marijuana for citizens aged 21 and over. The motion would set a state-mandated tax on cannabis products with a 10% tax, to eliminate incentive to buy the products. “Revenue from the tax would be allocated to local governments, K-12 education, and road and bridge maintenance”.
The other side of this Proposal allocates the full responsibility of their actions to the pot users and growers, allowing the citizens of Michigan to grow up to twelve plants on their respective property unless municipalities restrict marijuana institutions in their jurisdiction. Marijuana-related charges will be decriminalized for future cases, and cases with offenders currently serving time may be overturned on a case to case basis.
The culture around Utah has a different outlook on legalizing all cannabis, like the cases in Michigan and Missouri. Most prominently, the progressive political action committees are lobbying for the legalization, while the protruding Church of Latter Day Saints suggests otherwise. Proposition 2 this November pledges to legalize medicinal marijuana for specific situations with the necessary conditions. Licensed physicians would be able to give out medical cards for marijuana products with guidelines and restrictions on use of said products.
Approved individuals are permitted to buy at most two ounces of unprocessed marijuana and/or a cannabis-based product with no more than ten ounces of THC included. The restrictions get even more limited, with absolutely no permission to smoke these products. Proposition 2 also will levy high business costs for the institutions creating the products, but alternatively spare marijuana from local and state sales taxes.
After trying to get this statue, or ones like it on the ballots for the past three election cycles, North Dakota finally has landed a position for ‘Measure 3, Marijuana Legalization and Automatic Expungement Initiative’ for the 2018 Midterms. This option on the ballot was created to legalize all the uses of cannabis in the state of North Dakota, whether for medicinal or recreational reasons. This would be true for any citizens aged 21 and over, with lobbied penalties for offenders caught using or abusing marijuana products who are under the age of 21.
Furthermore, the state of North Dakota will turn to the elimination of criminal records for people sentenced to jail time because of marijuana-related crimes. People arrested with counts of possession or were caught dealing will reserve their rights under Measure 3 to a speedy trial in order to pardon them out of the prison system.
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Our reasons for moving north in the summer of 2010 are at once clear and rather hazy. Like a magic eye image, they come into and go out focus from one moment to the next. It’s necessary to keep our attention fixed upon them in a particular way to get a picture of all the events and thinking that led up to the day we drove away from our now empty home, the for sale sign waving us a gentle goodbye in a slow late July breeze.
The U-Haul truck was crammed to capacity with our remaining possessions when we pulled away on that sunny summer day. Behind it, a trailer towing our Volkswagen Jetta lengthened the entire ensemble to around 25 feet. The Jetta too was packed from floor to ceiling with the detritus of our former lives.
Isis, our cat, was perhaps the most perplexed of all by the radical change of circumstances being imposed upon her. Our dog, Zeus, on the other hand, was in typical black lab fashion just happy to be going for a ride. He undoubtedly would have preferred to have the passenger seat all to himself rather than having to share space in the cab with my wife and the cat, but from his perspective, an uncomfortable trip was better than no trip at all.
Most Americans, whether they are the overtly patriotic type that proudly displays the Stars and Stripes every chance they get or not, tend to be convinced of the myth that whatever its faults, the United States beats all the alternatives. Even the loudest complainers from both ends of the political spectrum that we know personally, including those with the means to live just about anywhere in the world they want, still showed no strong desire to join the large and growing community of American expats happily living elsewhere.
Whether it was really there or not, we always perceived a bit of suspicion when it came to our decision to leave the country. From passive to passionate patriots alike, questions both subtle and blunt about our motivations were common. We weren’t traitors, but we were hardly as enthusiastic about our native country as we were supposed to be either.
Health care was one reason we could readily offer for heading north. The cost of higher education was another. Even for international students tuition tended to be at least as reasonable as it was in much the United States for the locals. We were entering Canada on my student visa, with plans to take advantage of the three-year work permit all graduates were entitled to afterward. Hopefully, during that post-graduation period, I could find a skilled job that would allow us to become permanent residents. That was the initial plan anyway.
We had a strong intuition that the culture in Canada must be more relaxed and less polarized. They wouldn’t provide people with universal health care coverage or invest more in education otherwise. And of course Canada lacked America’s enthusiasm for guns. We had seen Michael Moore go door-to-door randomly twisting doorknobs in a Toronto neighbourhood in Bowling for Columbine and liked the idea of living in a nation where people were so comfortable leaving their doors unlocked.
There were other reasons too. Both my wife and I had been raised Mormon and had been living in Salt Lake City for our entire married lives. Though Utah’s capital is itself majority non-Mormon and represented entirely by Democrats, it is still an island in a slowly retreating sea that consists largely of both the state’s dominant faith and conservatism. That sea was retreating rather too slowly for our liking.
I had left Mormonism years earlier and my wife had stopped attending church long before the move as well. None-the-less, we wanted to live in a more secular society where one of the first questions so often out of someone’s mouth when you first met them wasn’t either “what [Mormon] ward do you live in?” or “where do you go to church?” The slightly less presumptuous would ask the latter question while the more presumptuous typically preferred the former.
It was somewhat ironic, then, that our first landlord in Canada turned out to be a born-again Christian who took it upon himself to politely but rather insistently attempt to dissuade me from my alternating atheism and agnosticism. He was a nice man originally from Ontario struggling through the breakup of his marriage. He had somehow found himself saddled with a home in the countryside outside of Victoria, British Columbia that desperately needed some repair and often said he preferred Toronto to his current surroundings. Feeling as though my resistance to attending church with him might be hurting his feelings, I agreed to go once. If the spirit didn’t move me we agreed that would be the end of it. It didn’t and it was.
The rent at our first apartment was too expensive and the location, though beautiful, was too far from the university and downtown for our liking. After nine months we put everything in storage and departed again with the dog and the cat upon a trip across Canada with the intention of returning to the states by June to work for the summer and save up for the following year.
This had not been how things were supposed to go. Unfortunately, our house had taken longer to sell than we had planned. For our first few months in Canada, we were paying both rent and a mortgage. When the house finally did sell we made only a few thousand dollars on the sale. A hoped-for source of revenue had failed to materialize in time to do us much good.
Of the two of us, my wife, Chris, is the long-term planner and the one who does most of the worrying. I’m more interested in a little adventure. Like most gamblers, rolling the dice suits me just fine — except when I’m on a losing streak. At the end of that first year, the losses were adding up and fast. In spite of some assistance from family, we were headed back to Utah for the summer hoping to pull a rabbit out of the hat that would facilitate our return to Canada again by late August.
Isis was not pleased. We spent a week at a campsite on the shores of Cowichan Lake where she settled in. When the time came to leave she disappeared into the woods rather than get back into the car. For better or for worse her traveling days were over. Hopefully, she turned up again for the camp hosts. They had cats of their own roaming around the campground and assured us they would keep their eyes and ears open for her. We left our cell phone numbers and spent a night or two in town so we could drive back to see if she had made an appearance, but we never saw or heard from her again.
In the weeks ahead we drove slowly across Canada, stopping for a few days in Alberta’s Kananaskis Country near the BC border. We also camped on a small lake just over the provincial line in western Ontario. It was so calm on that particular night that one could look down into its still dark waters and see what seemed a perfect reflection of the thousands of stars shining overhead. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the universe so clearly without having to crane my neck.
I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the universe so clearly without having to crane my neck.
We eventually ended our eastward trek in Kingston. There I met up with a friend who traveled with me to Algonquin Provincial Park while Chris stayed in town recuperating from too many days on the road. My friend and I spent a couple of nights in the park where I had my first real intimate experience with the haunting call of Canada’s famous loons, and also with eastern Canada’s infamous black flies. Zeus was there too, always the happy companion under any conditions.
Once back in Utah we moved into the basement of some friends biding our time until we could return. Chris and I both took a job with the Utah State Democratic Party helping them prepare for the annual state convention, organizing other events, and doing some data entry. Before leaving for Canada in 2010, I had worked as a DNC party organizer assigned to the Utah Democratic Party’s office, so it was good to see everyone again. It was also nice of them to have me back on the payroll for the summer given I had left in something of a huff shortly after the public option was dropped from consideration during the 2009 health care debate.
It’s been said here and there by people who have experienced serious setbacks that if they had known in advance all the difficulties that awaited them, they would never have embarked on their adventures in the first place. This being the case, a certain degree of limited foresight is necessary to progress.
The list of problems I hadn’t anticipated and the stress all the accumulated uncertainty had created was immense for both of us as we approached the conclusion of those first twelve months. Had we seen it coming the previous summer we would have taken our house off the market and stayed put. Zeus was the only member of the family to remain perpetually happy no matter where he landed. He came to work with us each day becoming something of an office mascot as well as a consistent source of comfort.
But we did return in August of that year, and this time we remained for six more years. I graduated from the University of Victoria with two degrees in 2014 and was able to get a three-year work permit following graduation. In spite of countless interviews, age and a lack of permanent residence status plagued me. Eventually, I took a job with UPS and settled into a routine there, making new friends that would turn out to be both a comfort and a resource in the future in the process. But alas, my position with the company wasn’t considered skilled labor, so once again it was necessary to look into other options if we were going to remain in Canada beyond the expiry date for my existing permit.
Pursuing those options landed us back in the US. I arrived in early September of 2017 and Chris followed a few months later. It’s a long story involving a mistake on my application to renew our stay and the necessity of resolving the issue from outside the country. But now we’re back. I’ll shortly be pursuing a master’s degree at Royal Roads University on southern Vancouver Island. Hopefully, I’ll at last be able to translate my time spent at Canadian universities into permanent resident status and eventually citizenship for both of us. We may not be the most skilled navigators of Canada’s immigration system, but we’re persistent.
After seven years here we’ve established a network of friendships that provide considerable emotional as well as tangible support. That was almost completely absent at the end of our first year. I’m now able to quickly move back into a job and Chris in particular has become a very savvy shopper when it comes to locating what we need on the rental market. Each bump in the road we’ve experienced has been a little smoother than the last.
People often see the border as a kind of finish line for immigrants. That’s incorrect. Immigrating to a new country is a process that really is just getting underway after making that initial crossing. I’ve gained a great deal of sympathy for those attempting to establish a new life in another country. It’s the kind of experience one can only barely begin to understand from the outside. The stories people see on the news and read in the newspaper or online at best only provide half of the picture. The sleepless nights and emotional turmoil that come with wondering if you’ve made the right decision or whether you’re going to make it are rarely even mentioned.
We’ve had the advantage of sharing a common language with the country we moved to. Our home and family is only a relatively short flight or long day’s drive away if we ever need to return or wish to pay our old home a visit. Those coming to Canada from war-ravaged Syria or other troubled parts of the world aren’t nearly so fortunate.
None-the-less, the United States does seem increasingly alien to us. Gridlock and anger have become the new normal. Political differences are in the air at family gatherings and are explicit on TV or online. The animosity building between people doesn’t seem poised to go away anytime soon.
Meanwhile, the working class, in particular, remain alienated as health care costs continue to skyrocket and the kind of educational opportunities I’ve been pursuing in Canada move further beyond the reach of everyday Americans. It’s not sustainable. That all of this is totally avoidable and far easier to fix than most people south of the 49th parallel seem to think makes all these self-inflicted wounds intensely agonizing to witness even from our perspective north of that line.
Some immigrants are pushed out of their homeland with a shove by war, famine, or some other major calamity. Others, like my wife and I, are just responding to gentle nudges. We have never endured anything like extreme violence or poverty, but we did feel more and more like square pegs trying to fit comfortably into a round hole. The events that have taken place in the years since our departure leave us increasingly convinced that the welcome mat has been taken in. Because we’re citizens with passports, social security numbers, and all the rest the door remains unlocked but behind that door the house is increasingly falling into disrepair.
As Chris was putting things into storage late last year and preparing to follow me back to the States while we attempted to renew our status in Canada, one of our old landlords told her that she was sad to see us leave. She said we were more Canadian now than American. That rings true, and I think that will always be the case no matter what the future holds.
I’ve never been much of a winter person. I don’t like having to get all bundled up to go outside, and camping in frigid temperatures for me usually means a miserable sleepless night.
I have gone snowshoeing a couple of times, and alpine skiing a few additional times. I briefly organized monthly trips to a local nordic center. Each full moon the center would line the groomed trail around a nearby frozen lake with luminaries. The moonlight reflecting off the snow gave the whole world a kind of silver aura which seemed particularly magical after a couple of hot toddies.
But if I’m being honest, those monthly trips were more social events than moonlit escapes into nature. It wasn’t the kind of thing I ever seemed inclined to do on my own. Winter for me, as for so many people, is spent predominantly indoors. It takes special circumstances to lure me outside for any significant length of time from December to March, and I always reserve the right to cancel on account of the weather.
Experiences accumulate like fat during the other three seasons of the year. During the winter this stored energy is burnt off in various essays and a few other creative pursuits, for better or for worse. Time is spent trying to stretch the supply of experiential material hopefully accumulated during the warmer part of the year when the only item of clothing not technically optional was a pair of hiking boots. Winter was ideally made for research, typing up and reviewing notes, and scribbling short grey days and long cold nights away.
. . .
I have a table at a local pub that I use to get through the colder months. Generally, I visit it only one day a week, though two has not been unheard of. Weekdays are preferable to weekends. Mondays or Tuesdays are the best.
The bar is usually pretty empty early in the week. Just about everyone else has a liver exhausted from a weekend of over-indulgence and is back to their regular 9–5 routine. I’m blessed (or cursed) with a routine that is out of sync with most of the employed world, and so can’t tax my liver on the same schedule.
Regardless, I like having the pub almost exclusively to myself. Sometimes there’s just me and the staff huddling nearby for their weekly meeting. There’s a plug for the computer, and I bring a backpack filled with notes and books to fill the afternoon while casually eavesdropping to learn which beers and liquors were most popular over the course of the previous week.
The TV in the corner behind the bar provides a mild visual distraction, though I can’t hear it over the music. The setting is familiar, but not too familiar. The bartenders have come to know me and to expect I’ll be staying a while. They are polite but respectfully keep their distance knowing the only interruptions I expect or will long endure are those necessary to keep the pints coming. It’s as though I’m a fixture, and I like it that way.
Though my regular Monday and/or Tuesday table would seem about as far removed from nature as one could get — especially being situated, as it is, at a window overlooked by a busy city sidewalk — it plays a similar role. The pub, like treks into the nearby mountains and deserts, provides the occasional necessary change of scenery to keep the creative process on track.
It is often said that the discipline a daily routine imposes is essential to every would be writer, artist, scholar and/or scientist. But everything is poison at a certain dose. Creativity requires breaks from the usual surroundings, even if these changes are themselves a predictable part of a regular schedule. If five or six days are spent working largely alone staring at the same four walls, introducing the mildly unpredictable ruckus of a pub and some different faces to look at now and then can lubricate the gears a little. Of course, the beer helps too.
. . .
But now it’s mid-March. In just a few days spring officially gets underway. This may qualify as a fifth season of the year: the anticipatory season. Thoughts increasingly turn toward the chance to really get away. The eyes begin to scan the nearby mountains more and more to assess how much longer the snow-pack will interfere with the chance to go for a hike.
Text messages with particular friends during these final days of winter inevitably include the possibility of near future day hikes and camping trips. We know that many of these will never take place. A lack of time and resources will squeeze the possibility out of most of these schemes before they have a chance to become reality.
But that’s not the point. Just imagining weekends or even whole weeks away is itself a kind of mini vacation. Researching new places to go on the internet and sharing the findings with friends that likewise find sitting around campfires, scrambling over rocks, or climbing unfamiliar mountain peaks intoxicating brings its own rewards. Indulging these fantasies is essential to maintaining the outward appearance that we are fully engaged with reality that polite society generally expects.
But at least a few of these fantasies will materialize into experiences more tangible than bucket lists and daydreams. “Wisdom often wanders,” Robert Moor writes in his book On Trails: An Exploration. “St. Augustine, Siddhartha, Li Po, Thomas Merton, Maya Angelou — the insight of each was deepened by wild and meandering youth.” I’m not exactly youthful anymore. Nor do I claim to be particularly wise. That said, I’m looking forward to leaving this winter’s pub table for another season of wandering of both the imaginary and real variety. Perhaps in the process, I’ll get lucky and gain some wisdom that will make its way to paper next pub season.
Cover Image by author along Canada’s West Coast Trail in Pacific Rim National Park