The obsessive fear of youth reefer madness
By Matthew Fraser, Opinions Editor
There is a closely held belief amongst some people regarding the evils of marijuana. To those who view every illicit substance as an equally evil step towards dependence and ultimate squalor there is no difference between marijuana and heroin. For them there is nothing more horrific than the thought of their young family members or even people at large smoking the devil’s lettuce. These well-meaning fears come from a good place, and should be considered when it comes to adolescents. However, such fears have also spurred a sometimes overactive criminal justice system.
The common argument against teen substance usage is that it will lead to further usage before culminating with homelessness, crime, and ultimate societal destruction. Much like abstinence sex education it has been determined by some that any usage is detrimental to the individual and society at large, however, this has not been borne out of society or even general history. If the argument were right then at least 14.8 percent of Canadians should be severely compromised by drug usage—based on surveys used by Stats Canada in which 14.8 percent of respondents reported marijuana usage in the past 12 months. In fact, one could argue quite well that much more than 15 percent of the population has smoked weed and/or used other illicit substances recently; there is still enough stigma surrounding substances that people are probably under reporting usage. Given that the average age of first usage is around 15 (as reported in a PMC study) it is fair to wonder about the dangers marijuana usage presents; luckily many adult users are in total agreement that much like cigarettes, usage should be legalized only for those 19 and older.
A common thread that underlies marijuana-averse parenting is the damage that such usage will have on young brains (cue “Your brain on drugs” egg frying); even though the evidence is clearer on this one it does not pan out to what is assumed by the most ardent of doubters. Scientists and researchers do in fact agree that usage amongst youth has a negative impact on brain development, however, the most detrimental effects appear more frequently only after heavy usage. Aside from the lack of funds necessary for this level of usage many teens are engrossed in other acts and behaviours or simply grow out of it over time. Indeed, in the aforementioned Stats Canada survey almost 50 (46.9) percent of Canadians queried acknowledged using marijuana at least once in their lives. From these numbers it’s apparent that more people grow out of experimentation than get trapped in its grips.
Few disagree that people shouldn’t be smoking weed before the age of 19, however, the most ardent supporters of marijuana criminalization have willingly sacrificed the freedom of many for a false sense of security; in addition to this, constant scare tactics amount to nothing more than laughable hyperbole for the majority of teens. It is clear by looking at the majority of adults in society that marijuana usage, albeit unhealthy at a young age, is not the ultimate peril it’s been advertised as.