Opinion: Keep it away from the kids — legal cannabis is only a negative for youth

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It’s been five years since recreational cannabis use was legalized in Canada. And what do we, as a country, have to show for it? Not much good.

Pot was legalized in October 2018 by the federal Liberals — making Canada the first G-20 nation to do so. The objectives were threefold: improve cannabis-related public health and safety, reduce youth access, and reduce cannabis-related crime and illegal markets.

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Five years in, while arrests and charges are down (except for THC-impaired driving charges, which are up significantly), public health and safety and youth access have not improved. Rather, they’ve gotten worse.

Since legalization, more Canadians — particularly young Canadians — are using cannabis and more are getting sick from it. A recent report from the Canadian Medical Association Journal notes cannabis use is up, as are cannabis-related emergency department visits and hospital admissions.

Regrettably, cannabis poisonings of children have increased. (Our family experienced a version of this terror when our dog ate some type of edible he found at the park; his symptoms originally led us to believe he was dying. The vet told us it’s a common occurrence these days with varying side-effects, the worst of which is death.)

Studies on cannabis among youth show that since legalization, rates of use have increased, as have rates of cannabis use disorder diagnoses (pot addiction) in the 18- to 24-year-old group. A federal report earlier this year said legalization has normalized cannabis use among teens as young as 13 years old, with many reporting using it as a way to cope with mental-health problems.

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This isn’t surprising; it’s an inevitable outcome. Make something legal, socially acceptable and easily accessible, and the kids will want it, too. And this is where, as a mother of two boys months away from 13, my concern lies. (It has always struck me as odd that Justin Trudeau, a father of three young kids at the time, oversaw the legalization of recreational cannabis in this country).

I don’t want my kids to think that using cannabis is OK, normal or somehow good for them.

Youth with heavy cannabis use have an increased risk of developing mental-health disorders, including schizophrenia, according to studies. The risk is even greater for young men. A study recently published in JAMA Network Open found that since legalization, cannabis-induced psychosis had the largest relative increase in hospitalizations.

I’m fully aware there are many adults who now responsibly consume legal cannabis, and good for them. My concern is for the generations under them — the kids, teens and those in their 20s who are now using marijuana, often daily, and can’t stop. The negative effect this behaviour will very likely have on their futures — relationships, careers and civic involvement — and our society is something we should all be worried about.

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Yes, Canadian teens smoked pot before it became legal. But to do so they had to break the law and it wasn’t nearly as easy to obtain. This was deterrent enough for most.

Now, the fact that pot is legal, socially acceptable, mainstream and literally on every corner sends a message to youth that it’s OK. This is not the message we should be sending. We should be discouraging them from using marijuana, not encouraging them.

I’m not so naive to believe that recreational marijuana will be outlawed again in Canada. The political cost would be too much given our country has one of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world (hardly a pride-inducing statistic). We are very likely going to continue this national experiment.

So, in our family, my husband and I are open with our kids about our views on drugs, including pot. Our message is to stay away. Do we use stereotypical and fear-inducing warnings? Yes, of course we do; we’re up against a ubiquitous societal message that screams the opposite.

Melanie Darbyshire is the editor and publisher of Business in Calgary magazine.

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