This week, four former Vancouver mayors released a letter in which they urged politicians to legalize and regulate the use of pot in B.C.
They advance a reasoned, if familiar, argument: Prohibition does not work, and it creates a criminal market, fuels gang activity, draining untold millions in public funds in failed enforcement.
With regulation, goes the argument, we could control the sale, strength and quality of the drug, while earning millions in fees or taxation.
All good. Except for one biggish problem. Ordinary people don’t buy it.
Ordinary people are not going to read academic studies, unravel complex science on addictions or solve a harm benefit equation.
They are probably going to ask themselves: Would you buy a bag of weed and give it to your teenager?
The hell you would, Mom and Dad.
One afternoon this week, I sat down with a mother who wanted to quietly scream about the media’s depiction of marijuana as a soft, even helpful drug, that the state should legalize and control.
She has a son, 20. He began using marijuana when he was about 14. It soon turned into daily use, sometimes before school. So school became a problem.
“He just seemed so spaced out all the time,” said his mother, a 50-ish federal public servant. “He became very secretive about where he was going.”
Within a couple of years, he was dealing. Then he was expelled.
He was a good athlete, but gave up sports, gave up his sports friends and soon ran with another crowd. It changed the whole dynamic of the family.
“I would dread coming home at night because I didn’t know who I’d find there.”
He managed to finish high school and now has a part-time job in retail. He is living on his own.
She believes he is addicted to marijuana and that it has robbed him of his ambition. She is unclear, even though she is his mother, what he is interested in. Video games, television, music, booze, and pot; not much else.
“You just feel powerless,” she said. How many times, in how many homes, is this scene being repeated?
In a nutshell, that is why state control of marijuana will probably never happen. An ordinary citizen, a garden-variety parent, does not want to be party to the creation of a nation of young pot-heads. Period.
You can read all the literature in the world, every website on the Internet, about whether marijuana is or isn’t addictive, but that will not erase what you see with your own eyes.
The boy grew up in a middle-class suburb, with many advantages. He was taken to counsellors, psychologists, doctors. He couldn’t seem to stick with a program. His parents have joined support groups and sought help from the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre.
The boy has an older brother, who is thriving. It vexes the mother how one could be so focused and the other so lacking in motivation.
The young man suffers from depression. He tells his parents that the marijuana “relaxes him” and that he doesn’t want to talk about it as a possible problem. So she feels stuck.
There are lots of statistics out there about marijuana use, some of them worrisome.
According to a large survey done by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, about 46 per cent of Grade 12 students in Ontario had used cannabis in the preceding year (83 per cent had used alcohol; only 20 per cent had smoked cigarettes).
When looking at the Grade 7 to 12 population, the survey found this translates into about 261,500 students who smoked pot at least once in the past year. About three per cent of all students “may have” a cannabis dependency.
The good news is that, generally speaking, cannabis use is down among teenagers.
Now mom just hopes her son will bottom out with his use of marijuana and gain some clarity about what his life is all about.
She is not a zealous woman. She is not decrying marijuana as the great evil of our age or the root of a national crisis. She would merely like to say, from her point of view, that it is addictive and certainly not harmless.
“I don’t think it is harmless. My son is certainly being harmed by it.”
That, your worships, is why one letter from four mayors, however experienced, does not change what a million parents see with their own eyes.