Pot isn’t safe for the young

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

As the Trudeau govern­ment works over­time to le­gal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana in Canada by the sum­mer of 2018, there’s a huge job to be done out­side Par­lia­ment.

Health of­fi­cials, ed­u­ca­tors, par­ents and the govern­ment must some­how per­suade young Cana­di­ans to swear off a drug that will sud­denly be le­gal for adults all around them to use for fun and re­lax­ation.

This won’t be easy, es­pe­cially when teens see Mom and Dad light up a reefer and are told: “Do as we say, not as we do.” But the stakes for our youth couldn’t be higher. New re­search out of the Uni­ver­sity of Water­loo high­lights both the harm mar­i­juana is do­ing to the young as well as the high num­ber of Cana­dian teens al­ready in­dulging in the drug.

A UW study that tracked 26,475 On­tario and Al­berta high school stu­dents found the ones who smoked weed were of­ten dazed, con­fused and more likely to do poorly in school.

By the time the stu­dents were smok­ing mar­i­juana once a month, they were four times more likely to skip class, two to four times less likely to com­plete home­work and half as likely to get good grades com­pared to be­fore they started us­ing pot.

The study, which has been pub­lished in the Jour­nal of School Health, con­cluded that smok­ing pot ap­pears dam­ag­ing to teens, whose brains are still de­vel­op­ing.

But while the re­searchers want to dis­cour­age young peo­ple from smok­ing mar­i­juana, other find­ings from UW ex­perts sug­gest this will be an up­hill bat­tle when the drug is le­gal and more vis­i­ble.

Even be­fore legalization, two per cent of Cana­dian stu­dents in grades 7 to 12 — more than 43,000 young peo­ple — are smok­ing mar­i­juana daily. Among Grade 12 stu­dents, daily use jumps to five per cent.

These find­ings sup­port ear­lier re­search that says Cana­dian teens are more than twice as likely as adults to smoke pot and have the high­est rate of cannabis use in the de­vel­oped world.

The UW re­search also re­it­er­ates the find­ings of other stud­ies which con­clude young peo­ple who smoke mar­i­juana are more prone to learn­ing prob­lems, over­stim­u­lated brains, a per­ma­nent re­duc­tion in in­tel­li­gence and se­vere men­tal health prob­lems later in life.

As alarm­ing as it may be, none of this ev­i­dence should be seen as an ar­gu­ment against legalization.

The war on mar­i­juana has been a fail­ure, wast­ing po­lice and court re­sources while crim­i­nal­iz­ing the use of a drug that, for adults at least, causes less harm than al­co­hol.

But young peo­ple re­quire spe­cial at­ten­tion and it’s telling that one of Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s rea­sons for le­gal­iz­ing recre­ational pot is to do a bet­ter job keep­ing it out of young hands.

Ot­tawa must make good on this pledge and lead a con­certed ini­tia­tive to con­vince youth to de­lay smok­ing mar­i­juana or never use it at all.

Smok­ing up and driv­ing must be­come as taboo as drink­ing and driv­ing.

And the sci­en­tific ev­i­dence for not smok­ing in your teens or even early 20s must be con­veyed with calm rea­son.

Hon­est ed­u­ca­tion, not sim­plis­tic fear-mon­ger­ing, is the best way for­ward in our brave new world of le­gal pot. John Roe

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