Instructor Shares Research Progress on Cannabis Study

Tracey Harvey Explores Legalization and Impact on Region


School of Environment & Geomatics instructor Tracey Harvey is currently undertaking work on her PhD that looks into the social and economic impact the legalization of recreational cannabis will have on rural British Columbia.

As part of the process, earlier this summer Harvey asked Selkirk College staff to participate in her research in order to gather opinion and insight into this subject area. Using Thoughtexchange—the local company which you may remember was used for the Selkirk College input into our Strategic Plan a couple months back—Harvey has now put together some of her work which she is sharing below.

Tracey Harvey Research Project

Dear Colleagues,

Thank you for taking time to share your opinions about the socioeconomic challenges and opportunities of recreational cannabis legalization to rural B.C. areas on Thoughtexchange. I would like to share some early results of the exchange that ran from June 14th to July 24th, 2018. I have created a summary based on the thoughts that were shared by over 200 people, and that received over 4,000 ratings.

If you are interested in my research paradigm, methodologies and approach to analysis, please skip to Inherent subjectivity below, otherwise, read on for the results.

Thoughtexchange results
Two hundred and seven people participated, mostly from Nelson (28%), Castlegar (19%), and Rossland (19%). The ages of participants were “mid-life”, 40-49 (31%), 30-39 (26%), and 50-59 (17%). General Citizens made up the majority of respondents (49%), while 13% were from the Education sector and 11% identified as Cannabis Industry Professionals. A total of 251 thoughts were shared. In general, people are concerned about challenges of legalization much more than they are optimistic about opportunities. 

There were two distinct groups that surfaced, with divergent opinions; according to the way thoughts were rated. One group largely expressed concern over how the current cannabis industry and participants will transition to the legalized regime, and the barriers they face, while the other group expressed little interest in developing a formalized cannabis economy and concern for the current industry. The latter group however, expressed concern for increased use and access, particularly for youth, safety, such as driving under the influence, normalization, and concern for regional bylaw enforcement.

Interestingly, these two groups converged on some topics too, such as opportunities for research, and concern for therapeutic access for medical patients, as well as accessible quality products. 


Only 57 thoughts were coded as Opportunities, which were further broken down as opportunities in: economic development, harm reduction, education and research in that order of prevalence. 


Tripling the number of opportunities, 180 thoughts were coded as Challenges. The vast majority of challenges were related to concerns about transitioning to the legalized regime, economic related policy, socially focused policy, safety, health and access, youth, normalization and stigmatization, again in that order of prevalence.

Within each of these categorizations, you can view the thoughts shared, which can be further themed (although I didn’t code for this, yet), for example, in terms of economic policy concerns, a major theme that was discussed was the proposed government run provincial distribution system. Many small businesses are advocating for farm to table, or farm gate sales, which would bypass the provincial distribution model. While I can’t confirm the accuracy of the “rumours,” there is talk about the possibility of using block chain technology to enable transparent, yet secure transactions, which would ensure regulatory requirements are met.


It is clear that the topic of legalization is polarizing, which is well documented in this exchange and leads me to wonder how legalization will affect social capital in our region. To me social capital is an indication of a well-functioning society, which is often driven by a shared sense of identity, values and purpose, as well as meaningful social interactions, and trust.

While there is some anticipation that the impacts of legalization may be potentially economically detrimental (particularly to some small areas), there is also talk about how legalization could be socially helpful: some speculate that legalization may “clean things up around here” and provide an opportunity for other industries to grow, following a long run of overshadowing by the strong illicit cannabis industry. Transitioning to the new rural cannabis economy may therefore mean some current participants move into new sectors, others move into the legalized regime, while others remain in the black or grey markets if the demand continues to exist.

For a review of all the themed thoughts, please check out the bar charts - but remember, these are subjective to my categorical interpretation derived from content analysis (see inherent subjectivity section below), which may continue to change as I learn more from people and re-read responses.

The value of this exchange is documentation of current, pre-legalization attitudes, highlighting ideas and areas of concern that both diverge and converge between the groups that surfaced.

This brief, as well as future discussion about this exchange and the entire project can be found online.

Inherent subjectivity

Because I live here in the Kootenays and continuously interact with residents, businesses, and communities who are being impacted by legalization, it is difficult, or impossible to remove myself, as the researcher, from the research. I am therefore both influenced by and influence the research. This means there is subjectivity involved. And on that note, with regards to this project, I believe truth can be relative and that it can change, depending on the context.

For example, depending on which group I speak with, I learn different truths about the cannabis industry and how (they feel) it influences the local society and economy. While these truths may differ, they are very real to the group holding them. Following up to earlier comments I made about organized crime, for example, during early informal conversations, some industry participants told me they have no interaction with organized crime in our rural area (i.e., it is not part of their cannabis business). While other people have pointed out organized crime has to exist in the illicit drug supply chain, unless a cultivator supplies the consumer directly (or if access is through dispensaries, but more debate accompanies that point). Since the majority (apparently around 80%) of the cannabis produced in our region leaves the area, there is a good chance organized crime is part of the supply chain at some point, and is fueled by rural cannabis businesses, currently under prohibition. I would therefore suggest there are two truths being told: one that is generalizable to a larger area, and one that is very grower (and context) specific. I aim to be clear on context as I share findings.

A social constructionist paradigm

In order to gather in-depth information regarding legalization impacts to our rural region, I am optimally positioned because of my residency, which is helping me make local connections and generate deeper knowledge about what is happening here, right now. I am well positioned to learn about what local residents value, and the meaning of the cannabis industry and the socioeconomic impacts of legalization. I hope that my subjectivity is satisfactorily addressed by explicitly sharing how I am approaching knowledge gathering, which is from a social constructionist (rather than a positivist) paradigm. 


This approach (paradigm) drew me to utilize Thoughtexchange in order to qualitatively gather local resident’s thoughts, in order to understand patterns, and commonalities regarding what concerns and excites residents with respect to legalization. I took a content analysis approach, where I first developed summary (over arching) themes of Challenges and Opportunities.  Within these broad categories, I created new themes as they evolved, and coded thoughts accordingly, sometimes changing the coding of a thought when more relevant themes surfaced. I reviewed all 251 thoughts five times completely (!), although admittedly, I peeked at many thoughts much more than that as I grappled with some of their categorization. Two colleagues provided feedback, but ultimately the responsibility of the theming is mine.

Please be in touch if you have any questions, comments or concerns at


Tracey Harvey