POT MAY NOW BE LEGAL, but it’s a long way from socially acceptable in all circumstances.
There are places pot has been smoked for decades. Even before it was legal, the smell of pot was common throughout Kamloops. In the darkness of rock concerts. Down by the river. In a neighbor’s backyard.
But some of the places people smoke pot don’t seem quite so benign. Even less than half a block from children playing in parks, I’ve seen people walking down the street in Kamloops smoking a joint. Legal or not, kids and pot just don’t mix.
With pot being legalized, what we really have to start talking about are values.
When my Dutch nephew visited a few years back, when pot was still illegal, he noted that he often smelled marijuana in Kamloops, but never in his own city.
I have to agree with him. I’ve visited his city, which is about the same size as Kamloops, many times, and I can’t ever remember smelling pot. You can certainly smell pot in Amsterdam, but then it’s mainly because of marijuana tourism. Outside of Amsterdam, I don’t remember smelling pot in The Netherlands.
In The Netherlands, people have been able to possess up to 5 grams of marijuana for personal use since the 1970’s. There are coffeeshops, where pot is consumed on site or taken away. But outside of Amsterdam, most cities have only a handful of coffeeshops. My Dutch nephew’s city, s’Hertogenbosch, has 150,000 people, and just 5 coffeeshops.
People can buy pot in s’Hertogenbosch, but no one is consuming it openly.
I asked my nephew once whether he ever went to a coffeeshop. His reply was that only losers went to coffeeshops. He has no problem going to one of the 50 plus pubs and bars in his city. But for him, using pot is not socially positive. He and his friends will go to a pub for a beer or two, but avoid coffeeshops and the pot culture.
Young people like my nephew are choosing not to buy pot. With only 5 coffeeshops in s’Hertogenbosh, it’s clear there’s not much market for pot.
The Dutch are often seen as very liberal because things like soft drug use is decriminalized. But in fact, they have simply moved the sanctioning of drug use from being a criminal issue to being a moral issue. From Grade 1, kids are given education on drugs, and information on how to reduce harm if they choose to use.
What isn’t clear to me, in the current giddy state of Canada decriminalizing pot, is where we want our values to be. There seems to be a complete lack of leadership from all levels of government on what is or isn’t appropriate use of pot.
For decades there was a war on drugs. Police were sent into schools to talk about the risks of drug use, including marijuana. Now there seems to be a void on what we want our kids to know about drugs. The messages of yesterday, based on criminalization and prohibition need to change to focus on making sure youth know risks of drugs, how to make safer choices when using drugs, and information so they can choose wisely.
Kids and young people need to be educated on the risks of marijuana. One risk that concerns me the most is the effect of pot smoking on mental health. Study after study links the onset of schizophrenia to the use of marijuana. The risks of schizophrenia increase when marijuana use starts at an earlier age, when the usage is daily, and there is a family history of schizophrenia. Frequent marijuana use can also trigger suicide, depression and anxiety disorders. The effects of marijuana on a youth are larger because the brain is developing. Pot consumption needs to be moderate, and for youth avoided.
My nephew used the word “loser” but it’s more likely he was taught that marijuana can negatively affect mental health. Either way, he’s chosen to steer clear.
Smoking pot near playgrounds isn’t a good idea. Selling legal pot without also equipping young people with tools to make sound decisions is equally bad.
It’s time the education of our youth on pot consumption gets as much attention as the first legal sale of recreational marijuana.
Nancy Bepple is a former city councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.