HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Time To Just Say 'No' To Cannabis
Pubdate: Thu, 23 Aug 2007
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2007, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Margaret Wente
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


I know a guy who does a lot of weed. It's not a happy story. He 
started smoking dope in high school. After university, his friends 
began working hard and building their careers. He smoked dope 
instead. His friends got married and had kids. So did he. But he 
couldn't ever keep a job for long. He had lengthy spells of 
unemployment. His family was always broke, because he inhaled every 
cent they had. Eventually his fed-up wife threw him out. Today, well 
into middle age, he's scraping by somewhere, living in some basement.

So don't tell me marijuana is harmless. Don't tell me marijuana 
doesn't destroy people and their families. It does.

This week Tony Clement, the Health Minister, promised to launch a new 
public-health campaign against drugs. It's about time. We've raised a 
generation of kids who think marijuana is invariably benign. That's 
by way of contrast to cigarettes, which, of course, can kill you. 
Many of them grew up lecturing their own parents about the demon 
nicotine and snatching illicit smokes from their trembling hands. As 
for marijuana, though ... hey! It's practically legal now. Isn't it?

Um, no. But it's no wonder the kids are confused. The adults can't 
decide whether pot should be barely illegal, decriminalized, 
legalized or what. According to many progressive, liberal-minded 
adults, there's nothing really wrong with pot and the authorities 
should, like, chill out. Kids hear this message not just from the 
reefer lobby, but from leading lawyers, academics and newspaper 
editorial boards. You can scarcely blame them for believing that 
marijuana is less harmful than obesity, trans fats or lawn spray. As 
for booze - it's certainly less harmful than booze. Isn't it?

Well, maybe not. Today's pot is to the stuff I used to inhale as 
whisky is to beer. Recent research indicates that some people, 
because of their genetic makeup, react badly to the chemicals in 
cannabis, and are at heightened risk of psychosis. More commonly, the 
effects of regular indulgence include apathy, self-centredness and 
disengagement from life in general. A recent 10-year study found that 
regular cannabis users did far worse than drinkers in terms of mental 
health, occupational success and relationships, and were far more 
likely to be taking other drugs.

"Cannabis really does look like the drug of choice for life's future 
losers," said George Patton, the study's author. It's not too good 
for your lungs either. A couple of joints inflict about the same 
damage as a pack of cigarettes. In Britain, the government has begun 
a major policy reversal on marijuana after dozens of top experts in 
the field condemned it as a mental health risk. Even the permissive 
Dutch are doing a re-think.

Thanks to our permissive attitudes, marijuana use in Canada has 
doubled since 1994. Meantime, smoking rates have hit record lows. So 
don't tell me public-health campaigns won't work. Obviously they can, 
and do. Young people are notoriously resistant to public-health 
messages. Still, if we can teach them to recycle, there ought to be a 
place for teaching them how to live healthy, drug-free lives.

Wars on drugs have a bad name these days. No doubt the reefer lobby 
will be warning that the Conservatives' Bush-inspired war on drugs 
will revive the bad old days, when we made criminals of innocent 
16-year-olds for having a couple of Js. So far, however, nobody is 
advocating this. The cops should stick to busting grow-ops and 
traffickers and street gangs. And the health minister should be 
leaning on the medical and public-health and education establishment 
to get the message out. It won't be easy. Most of the public-health 
officials currently involved with drug issues don't seem interested 
in the "prevention" part of drug campaigns. They're far too busy 
lobbying for more injection-drug sites, more needle exchanges and 
more free crack-cocaine kits to hand out to addicts.

Influencing public behaviour is no mystery. You start by changing 
public attitudes. You try to get everyone - government, the media and 
schools - to give the same message: No. And if that message is too 
righteous for you, please recall that cannabis is the lifeblood of 
your friendly street or biker gang. You know, the ones with guns. 
Have a nice day.
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