“But it’s going to be legal soon; why would they make something legal that could hurt me?”
The question above is one Drug Free Kids Canada anticipates parents will hear when marijuana is legalized next summer. To help them prepare, the organization has created a Cannabis Talk Kit which outlines specific questions parents should expect along with appropriate answers. We recently sat down with Marc Paris, Drug Free Kids Canada’s executive director, to discuss marijuana legalization and how the group is supporting parents before it happens.
Laurel Gregory: Does the legalization in any way change your message, which is promoting a drug-free Canada?
Marc Paris: What we are trying to do is help parents guide their children, their teenage kids, through the difficult teenage years as drug-free as possible…We were appearing in front of two parliamentary committees recently and one of them was asking us, ‘What should be the minimum age?’ and our point was – quite frankly – it doesn’t really matter.
[In] Canada, right now, the youth group of 15 to 24-year-olds is the highest consumers of cannabis in the world, so if we want to talk about having a problem, we already have a problem of high consumption.
So whether we legalize it and make the minimum age 18 or 19 or 20, right now we do have a problem. We think it has to come through the realms of education so that people better understand and kids understand the risks involved with taking these substances, and parents need to be involved in having the conversations with their kids.
LG: How is Drug Free Kids Canada preparing for next summer?
MP: Back in the spring, we launched our first national multimedia campaign that was targeting the parents and promoting this brochure that we have called the Cannabis Talk Kit… Essentially it’s a two-part brochure. The first third of it is really talking about what is cannabis, what are the impacts, what are short-term [and] long-term impacts – the plus and the minuses side.
In particular, a fairly important segment talks about the dangers of ongoing regular consumption by teenagers; that it may affect, eventually, the development of the prefrontal cortex part of the brain, which is where judgement lies, and it’s the last part of the human brain to finalize and develop.
And according to science, it can take up to the ages of 20 to 23. So it could hinder the development of that part of the brain – in some cases permanently – depending on consumption and habits and everything else. So it’s not an innocuous substance… The other part of the brochure is a really very simple guide for parents to talk to their kids. So every page has, for example, if your child says this, here’s what you say and here’s why. It’s all evidence-based and a really good guide for parents.
LG: What are the risks, beyond [development of] the prefrontal cortex?
MP: There’s a lot of science out there that says, for example, if you have some predisposition to some mental health issues… for example, schizophrenia can be accelerated. All of this depending on the level of consumption, the frequency of consumption. Somebody who is smoking – on a regular basis – high doses of THC, is putting themselves at risk if they have these early signs. A lot of young people, according to our medical advisers, are saying that kids are often using pot to self-medicate, so in essence, there’s a lot of overlap between mental health issues.
LG: Do you think it’s going to be harder to send the message home that it isn’t a good idea to use this substance when kids are going to be going to school and going, ‘Johnny’s dad owns a dispensary,’ and ‘Johnny’s mom smokes it?’
MP: Well, it’s the same with tobacco and alcohol quite frankly. Parents’ behaviours count, so if parents are not educating their kids on responsible consumption just like alcohol or anything else, they have to understand there’s a higher risk involved with youth versus an adult who decides they want to smoke it recreationally. But like anything else, these substances like alcohol can be problematic. Alcohol is 10 times worse in the sense of causing harm to society. We’ll see what legalizing cannabis recreationally will do.
Nobody has the long-term view of this yet – even the [U.S.] states that have allowed it – it’s still fairly early in the game. We’ll see in the next 10, 20 years what kind of generations we will have created.
Will we have created generations that see this as a passing thing? There is the other side of it that a lot of kids might smoke cannabis right now because it’s kind of cool to do it but now if mom and dad are doing it, it might lose its cool factor. So there’s the reverse side of this too.
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