Pubdate: Wed, 12 Apr 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Author: Vaughan Dowie
Page: A15

Stifle the 'Let's party!' message when legalizing pot

The government messaging regarding the legalization of recreational
cannabis requires a delicate touch. A celebratory approach will give
the impression of promoting use

The federal government has committed to legalize the recreational use
of marijuana and is expected to table legislation this week, before
Parliament rises for its spring break. Are we ready for this? Does the
government have a clear and consistent message for young people and
their families?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been clear on his rationale for
legalization: to minimize underage access to marijuana and to reduce
criminal activity surrounding illegal marijuana trade. "Our focus is
on protecting kids and protecting our streets," Trudeau said at The
Economist magazine's Canada Summit in Toronto last June.

And yet when the announcement to introduce legislation was made last
April by Health Minister Jane Philpott, it happened to coincide with
4/20, the annual day of celebration for cannabis culture when
thousands of people across the country, often very young people,
gather to demonstrate their support for legalization by smoking joints
in public places.

It's been reported that the tabling of the legislation would also have
coincided with this day again this year had it not been for
Parliament's spring break. And the government reportedly intends that
marijuana will be legalized on July 1, 2018, the day we celebrate our

The government messaging regarding the legalization of recreational
cannabis requires a delicate touch. A celebratory approach will give
the impression of promoting use. Yes, the time has come to legalize
recreational cannabis, but sending the right message is as important
as developing a sound regulatory approach.

Those of us who work in the field of addiction services know that this
is a drug that, for some, can have serious consequences. There is
ample research on the effects of cannabis on the adolescent brain,
especially with early and frequent use. So while there may be
political points to be scored by linking the government's actions to
days of celebration, this link overshadows the caution we must
exercise with youth when we normalize the substance.

Pine River Institute is a residential treatment facility for
adolescents struggling with addictive behaviours. Most of the young
people we see use a variety of substances, but identify marijuana as
their primary drug of choice.

Before entering our program many have accessed numerous services over
months and even years: from crisis visits to the ER, to individual
psychotherapy, family therapy, medical intervention, day treatment
and/or short-term residential programs. Our students did not respond
to these less-intensive interventions, and continued to spiral down,
sometimes with severe mental-health symptoms, including
cannabis-induced psychosis.

They experienced global collapse, not functioning well socially, at
home or at school. Hospital visits and contact with police were part
of life for most of them. Conversations with our colleagues who work
with adolescents across North America, and what we hear from our own
students, tell us that this is a common narrative.

The federal marijuana task force recommendations are clear and they
include: use revenue from cannabis regulation for drug prevention,
education and treatment; begin public education strategy

This is where our focus must be. Effective public education that
informs youth and their families of the risks of cannabis on the
developing brain of adolescents is an important first step, and that
step needs to be taken immediately. Minister Philpott pointed out
recently that Canada has the highest proportion of cannabis use by
adolescents. We need to act now, well before legalization.

Legislation aimed at protecting our kids and our streets is certainly
worth celebrating, but "let's party" mutes the essential message and
sends a very mixed signal.

Vaughan Dowie is CEO of Pine River Institute.
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