Pot isn’t safe for the young
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