Pubdate: Wed, 15 Nov 2017
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2017 Winnipeg Free Press
Page: A8


A GENERATION of Canadians who grew up with the "Just Say No" anti-drug
messaging of the 1980s will find themselves in uncharted waters next

As of July 1, 2018, marijuana will be legal, which will radically
change a lot of things - including, significantly, how we talk to our
kids about it.

Realistically, it's a conversation we should already be having.
According to a 2013 UNICEF Office of Research report, Canadian youth
are among the top users of marijuana in the developed world.

But in this new world order, how we talk to our kids about marijuana
could look like how we talk to them about sex - another activity many
teenagers already engage in recreationally, whether parents like to
admit it or not. "The Talk" about the birds and the bees ought to
include blunts.

Like having sex, smoking weed can be done recklessly, irresponsibly
and dangerously. And, like having sex, smoking weed can be done in a
manner that is safer, more responsible and, yes, pleasurable.

When we take the pleasure piece out of either conversation, we do
young people a great disservice.

Talking about pleasure when we talk about sex opens the door for
conversations about consent, as well as the fact that sex should feel
good - and what to do if it doesn't.

Meanwhile, the "pleasure" part of the marijuana conversation allows us
to talk honestly about what the appeal is and how it makes people feel
- - and why that will be different for everyone.

Addressing the risks of certain behaviours and mitigating the harmful
consequences of those behaviours is a public-health principle called
harm reduction. The term might be evocative of clean-needle exchanges,
but harm reduction also includes safer-sex education. Young people not
only learn how to prevent sexually transmitted infections and unwanted
pregnancies through the proper use of effective contraception, they
also learn about consent, establishing boundaries and trust and how to
deal with peer pressure.

Young people will also benefit from straight-talking education about
drugs. Canada's Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines, which have been
endorsed by six of the country's public-health organizations, are one
resource available to aid in the discussion. More will doubtlessly be
developed over the coming months.

What isn't useful is withholding information, or cloaking it in shame
and fear. It remains a stubbornly held belief, for example, that sex
education in schools leads to a higher incidence of teen pregnancy. In
fact, the opposite is true: in the U.S., the states with the highest
rates of teenage pregnancy are the ones that teach abstinence-only
education. Teenagers are still going to have sex - they're just going
to have risky sex if they aren't equipped with adequate information.
Abstinence, whether we're talking about sex or drugs, is indeed a
piece of the educational puzzle, but it's just one piece.

Intentionally mystifying a subject young people are naturally curious
about will not keep anyone safe. Legalization provides a golden
opportunity - and, one might fairly argue, an obligation - to open the
lines of communication. Whether we're talking about sex, or drugs, or
drinking, it is vitally important that young people are armed with
evidence-based education so they are empowered to make informed
choices - and that they have adults in their lives whom they feel
comfortable going to with questions and concerns.

That's our best chance to keep them safe and healthy as we head into
those uncharted waters.
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