By Mustapha Safadieh
8 December 2016
Taz is twenty-three. He visits the local Cannabis dispensary twice a week and spends over a hundred dollars weekly. He has yet to graduate from high school and says he needs cannabis to deal with his Crohn’s disease. He’s been smoking since he was sixteen.
Moude is twenty-five. He picks up small amounts from Taz whenever possible. He spends under $20 weekly. He has a high position at Citco Fund Services, where he works five days a week. He was introduced to Marijuana recreationally at the age of twenty-two by his cousin Al.
Al was twenty-at the time. Twenty-Three now, hegets his fix from Moude and spends no money whatsoever on cannabis. He has currently dropped out of his third year of undergraduate studies in social science, and plans to return in a few years.
Taz, Moude and Al are all from the same neighborhood. In fact, they all live in the same Complex. They all went to the same high school—Victoria Park Collegiate. They are all religious, and all believe smoking cannabis is wrong.
“It’s too late for me,” says Al.
“There really isn’t anything else to do,” says Moude.
“I’m sick, I need it medicinally,” says Taz, although he admits to have started smoking since before his diagnosis.
When asked what they think was the most contributing factor to their use of the substance, they replied “the community.”
The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse name Canadian youth the top users of marijuana in the developed world since 2014.
“I don’t think smoking weed itself is addictive,” Moude Says. “Being in that state of mind is what’s addictive; more so than a physical need to consume it. It’s a social thing usually. If it’s not weed its alcohol or something worse. I think weed is better than alcohol. You don’t act as stupid, you’re a better, calmer kind of stupid. It’s a fun way to kill time, so why not? That’s all anyone thinks I do anyway.
*Scratch Media Intro*
According to the Cannabis Policy Framework, Marijuana is prohibited under the same federal drug statutes as heroin or cocaine. In Toronto, we see it used much more liberally. It isn’t a strange sight to see someone puffing out of a joint on a street downtown, or for Cannabis clinics to operate as openly as a Shoppers Drugmarts. These days it’s almost acceptable. Every year since 2006, marijuana crimes have decreased across the city, and now, in 2016, the substance is largely considered decriminalized.
Decriminalization varies from model to model, but is generally revolved around possession of smaller amounts of marijuana. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health claims, “A decriminalizing approach can reduce some of the adverse social impacts of criminalization. Removing criminal penalties for cannabis possession should result in a reduction in both the number of people caught up in the criminal justice system and the cost of enforcement, thus reducing the burden to individuals and to the legal system.” They later state however that decriminalization is linked to abuse by younger people and that while decriminalization is a start towards minimizing abuse, it is useless unless it develops into regulation.
This is however, specific to Toronto. According to Statistics Canada, 57,314 people were charged with possession of the substance in 2014 alone.
The same policy framework that says Marijuana is as illegal as harder drugs states that approximately 40 percent of smokers in the country are aged 21 to 29, and that another 25% are high-schoolers.
A large portion of demographics then, are students.
Throughout November in 2016, I conducted a survey among students in York University and Ryerson University, asking if they had tried Marijuana in their lives, if it were a positive experience, and where they lived. Close to 70% of students that ticked they’d tried marijuana before also ticked that it was a positive experience in their lives.
The average anti-drug brochure exaggerates the effects of marijuana. “Marijuana is linked to school failure,” reads Marijuana Facts for Teens. “Scientists do not yet know if Marijuana use causes lasting effects on the brain, but it is likely. In the long-term, Marijuana can cause problems with learning, distorted perception and poor motor coordination.”
However, a recent study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in the US argues that effects caused by marijuana in adolescents mostly concerns memory functions, and are no less harmful than moderate consumption of alcohol at a younger age. They conclude that the older a person is, the lower the long lasting effects of the substance, and that “In both the adult and adolescents, abstinence periods and study designs vary widely, and specific traumas to the brain has much to do with family-based genetic variation.” In any case, the effects of marijuana remain concerned with the realms of memory, and do not cause the psychological trauma that most pamphlets will advertise.
So where does the reputation come from? Marijuana is by no means healthy, but neither is alcohol or tobacco. Is it because it doesn’t improve the country economically? When I started off my research, I intended to compare the use of the substance with poorer regions of town. But there’s more to the matter than demographics.
In 1998, Ross Rebagliati (Rebleyati) won a gold Medal in Olympic Snowboarding. He was the first ever to win a medal in snowboarding. A few days after his win, Tetrahydrocannabinol—THC—was found in his blood, and he was immediately disqualified. They took away his medal, and he spent a day in an interrogation room in Nagano, Japan.
The court proceedings that followed spanned another few days, and the Olympics finally overturned the decision, on the basis that Marijuana wasn’t even on the list banned substances. Rebagliati said he lost 30 pounds between leaving BC and coming home. It was a stressful experience even though he won the gold and got to keep it in the end.
Rebagliati is one of many who has smoked the herb but remained successful, and who had suffered more from society’s perception of the drug than by the drug itself. Four years later, Rebagliati had trouble entering the United States. “Rebagliati can go to Salt Lake City to see the winter Olympics next week if he shows up at the border with a note from his doctor that says he is drug free,” reads an article in the Vancouver Sun. Today, more than ten years later, Ross still has trouble entering the United States, despite opening a company based in Vancouver that trades freely with America.
Perhaps the psychological trauma advertised in the pamphlets do have some merit to them. What does it mean if the trauma is caused externally however? If the community condemns its members for smoking marijuana, is it the drug’s fault or the society’s?
I met with Rouk Ghamer; Rouk used to live in the same neighborhood as Taz, Moude and Al. He went to the same high school as them and agreed to have started smoking weed with them as well. While Rouk isn’t a friend of mine, he allowed me an interview. He has moved to A Condo downtown on Bay and College. He works as a stock broker for a near his condo. “I still smoke weed,” he tells me. “Every day almost, as long as I have a choice or a chance. It’s my favorite thing to do after I’ve come home from a day at the office. I do it to unwind; I look forward to it every morning. It helps me gets up from bed.” I asked him what he thinks about weed trapping youth.
“I think that’s bullshit. That’s what concerned people tell you. ‘You won’t do anything with your life, you’ll try other drugs.’ Those people have never tried weed, so they don’t get a say. You are whatyou are. If you smoke weed and you’ve failed at life, you can’t work or study, that’s because you are weak, not because of weed.”
A Member who wished to remain anonymous agreed to have a few words with me about his work at NORML Canada. They are an organization primary focused on removing restrictions from those who might use or grow marijuana for their medical reasons, but he has high hopes that they will engage in the rising movement to legalize the substance for recreational use as well.
He says a lot of people in Toronto smoke cannabis, and that it’s not nearly as bad as alcohol. “It would serve us better if it were legalized. It could make money, the same way alcohol has. Legalization would make users less sketchy. It’ll even influence kids against it. A huge concern I have with Marijuana is that society will have you believe you are condemned if you try it. Kids who have tried it, and I’m talking high-schoolers who go to places like Victoria Park or Waterfront, kids who can’t even help but be surrounded by it, kids who have tried it will feel like they have nothing else and will do what they have to get it and miss out on what could be their futures. Kids like that will often settle. If they can get weed then all is good. I was one of those kids, I know.
Older people react similarly, although most aren’t trapped the way kids are. Most have jobs they can’t literally can’t quit. For them, weed becomes a party drug, like alcohol. You finish up at the office on a Friday night and you head to the bar with your co-workers. You can get drunk off your stool and no one so much as blinks. No one cares, your friends are as drunk, the bar’s making money. All is well. You leave the office and spark a joint while you walk down the street and people stare.”
I asked him what He and NORML have been doing to fix this.
Right now, apart from fighting the courts, they provide what guidelines they can to the government in their quest to legalize. Trudeau has gone on about wanting to reform marijuana laws in this country, and they’re sure they can do it. One thing they advise is pricing: Many worry that legalization will drive prices up the roof. A typical gram of weed on the streets is 10$ flat. Better strains range from 15 to 20 dollars per gram. Our members worry that if weed gets legalized; it will get taxed, and from one year to the next will inflate, just like alcohol. The biggest issue among regular smokers is that marijuana is primarily medicine, and if many partiers hop on the legalization train, the drug will be marketed to them, and will make it more expensive than usual. Apart from that, labeling marijuana as a a party-drug will have its own effects. Weed isn’t MDMA, it isn’t, coke or crack or ecstasy. It’s versatile, you can use as you want. Marketing the drug, playing it off that way will cause people to see it negatively. Worse, it’ll make people want it for the wrong reasons, and makes it all the harder.”
So legalization isn’t the solution? I ask
“There is no solution, but legalizing pot is a start. The layers on the cake will fade gradually. People will get used to it, it won’t be weird, and before you know it people will think differently about it. You know how if you have a few drinks you’re just having fun? We want weed to be like that too eventually. Non medicinal smoking is just fun, we go back to our lives in the morning, like normal human beings.”
Most recently, John Conroy—President of NORML Canada—has gone to court with the MMPR (or the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations) and has emerged victorious in securing the ability of patients to grow and medicate themselves independent of the government for six months past February of 2016. He says the MMPR has been “struck down as unconstitutional,” and “it isn’t difficult to regulate a legal regime” concerning Marijuana. He believes change will come to the country inevitably, and that it will be as organized as any drug regulation board—alcohol included—in the country.
Craig Jones—NORML Canada’s Executive Director—was ecstatic about their recent win, and stated it put a lot of power back into the hands of users, stating that the judge rejected every argument put forth by the conservative government’s lawyers. “The big challenge,” he says, “will be making clear what the governments intentions and what timelines are. A lot of people are operating now in an ambiguous grey-zone between outright prohibition and imminent legalization, and that’s why we have a proliferation of these dispensaries across the countries.” He says the government has promised to legalize but hasn’t set out a template or a timeline and that the market is moving into that vacuum regardless.
NORML Canada continues to struggle with the government, and is now focused on repealing government decisions to put users of marijuana (medical users included) into jail post their victory in court. They intend to reform the decriminalization in cities such as Toronto into a regulated system, making it safer for users of all ages to practice what they want to do.
Their latest event will take place at SFU’s Burnaby campus on January 26th 2016, and will feature a series of lectures run by professors across the world, such as Dr Francesca Fibley—director of cognitive Neuroscience and addictive behaviors at the university of Texas, and Ethan Russo, MD and medical director of PHYTECS Hospital in California.
*Scratch Media Outro*
Ogilvie, Claire. "Thanks, But No Thanks: Ross Rebagliati Declines New Drug-Free Conditions For
Travel to Winter Olympics." Vancouver Sun (2002): n. pag. Web.
Marijuana: Taking Another Look. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1998. Web.
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Youth Think About Cannabis." Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (2013)
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Cannabis Policy Framework. 2014. Web.
Barton, Ariana. "Young Canadians See Marijuana as a Harmless Herb. They're Wrong." The Globe
and Mail. The Globe and Mail, 16 Oct. 2014. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.
"Canadian Community Health Survey: Mental Health, 2012." Government of Canada, Statistics
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Bethesda, Md. Marijuana: Facts for Teens. July 2013
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