Jenna Valleriani

With the wave of backlash again Health Canada’s anti-marijuana campaign, the rise of unrest among Canadians who are sick of the government’s unwavering anti-cannabis stance is certainly reaching a tipping point. Even more recently, their ads liken cannabis users to “zombies”, sealed with a young, innocent girl in pink sunglasses.

I am certainly tired of the media treating young people like they’re too incapable to really understand a realistic representation of drug use— the underlining fear that exposing young people to honest drug education would lead to more drug use. I hate being the target of fear mongering cannabis advertisements, paid with tax dollars, filled with inaccuracies, where attempts to impose a narrow view about drugs, especially cannabis, have failed. Now more than ever, these advertisements have made me even more interested in the cultural and moral frameworks that surround drug policy in Canada. Young people have a right to honest, open education about all drug use and effects. Information and realistic drug education is how youth protect themselves and engage knowledgeable decision making which includes a thought to harm reduction strategies, such as the availability of drug testing kits.
For example, I know that current scientific evidence shows that cannabis use will not lead to psychosis, but that there is an increased risk for those who are predisposed to mental illness. In fact, cannabis has shown promising potential as an effective anti-psychotic medication for some. I also know that the war on drugs rhetoric often relies on this “myth” to make people believe that anyone is susceptible to schizophrenia once they smoke cannabis – it just takes that one time and your life will fall to the equivalent of an egg smashed to bits by a large iron pan.

I know that smoking cannabis, on a scale of relative harm, won’t make me ‘stupid’ or any less motivated to complete my degree and get a job. And yes, relatively conventional people, young and old, smoke cannabis. If we are speaking about the harms of common substances, I would argue alcohol, which is regulated and available legally, is more destructive and is linked to more evidence of social harms than cannabis, and many other substances– unless you count the war on drugs itself and its destruction on communities, families, and individual lives.

I also know that no one has ever died from a cannabis overdose.

I know our government places more time and effort in enforcing morality then approaching drug policy from a public health approach. Rather than give young people the tools to make informed choices, they are focused on perpetuating outdated stereotypes about cannabis harms. They continue to ignore the conclusions repeatedly drawn by academic researchers, drug policy experts, and front line workers, to name a few. They warn us, but refuse to give us any harm reduction tools.

I know that legalization does not mean a “free-for-all”. We really don’t have to be afraid of it because there are a variety of different models legalization could take. In fact, regulating cannabis properly will keep cannabis out of the hands of children, and really take the jazz out of the black market, among other things. Recently, studies from the US are showing that legalized cannabis has actually decreased teen use. We have lessons from our own medical cannabis programs, along with models from states in the US and other countries, that could help us actualize a realistic and safe approach to legalization.

I know that the CCSA found that 25% of youth smoked pot, proving Canada to have one of the largest youth populations who use cannabis. But, probably not that surprisingly, most of these young people go on to be law-abiding, conventional citizens.

I know that cannabis has some promising medicinal benefits, and that these benefits are continuously left unacknowledged by our government. We’re only just beginning to tap into the potential of what this could mean for the way we treat things like chronic pain, epilepsy, PTSD, cancer, and the roles it could play in things like addiction treatment and palliative care. Patient experiences are important.

I know that when The House of Commons Standing Committee on Health tabled a report entitled, “Marijuana’s Health Risks and Harms”, which makes relatively little mention of anything but the risks, I interpreted this as propaganda, rather than a fair representation of both sides of a story produced after carefully weighing all the evidence presented by a variety of different experts.

Lastly, I also know that youth around the world are mobilizing. As a member of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, we are moving towards engaging youth from chapters around the world to strategize for the upcoming United Nations General Assembly Special Session 2016. Our 7th Annual National Conference, “A Rising Revolution: Drug Policy Reform Around the Globe”, will be held in Toronto this year, and this is one strategy we are using to get young people together in one place to talk about drug policy, along with drug research experts like Dr. Carl Hart and Donald MacPherson, and strong activist voices like Dana Larsen, Marc Emery, Adam Greenblatt and Jodie Emery. Surely cannabis policy will be a deciding factor for many young people this election, and we want to see policy guided by principles of public health and harm reduction.