Published on October 9th, 2014 | from CAMH
Legalizing Marijuana : One Mother’s Perspective
A mother and supporter of the CAMH Foundation talks about her son’s experience with cannabis, and why she supports the recently-released CAMH Cannabis Policy Framework.
When I tell people that marijuana has ruined my son’s life but I think that it should be legalized, they are surprised. I understand that. It is a conclusion I reached only after much research and thought.
Ease of Access
My son started using marijuana when he was 13 years old. He bought it from another student at his high school, and from a neighbour’s teenage son. It simply could not be easier for teenagers to get marijuana than it is today. There are no restrictions and dealers do not ask for ID. By 14 my son was addicted and selling to his schoolmates and friends.
Keeping marijuana illegal does not keep it out of the hands of our youth. Instead, it provides them with a financial incentive to sell it to their friends. For those who are addicted, it provides them with the financial means to fund their addiction.
If we accept that we will never be able to completely stop marijuana use, then the only question becomes who do we want to control its distribution? The government or criminals? Legalization with regulation allows the government to:
- make it more difficult for teenagers to obtain;
- keep users safer by ensuring that:
- marijuana is not laced with other drugs; and
- restricting the maximum amount of THC it contains.
As long as marijuana is sold in an illegal market, the government has no control. Taxing it will take money out of the hands of drug cartels and give it to the government where it could be used to fund the treatment of substance use disorder and educate the public about the harms of use.
Exposure to the Criminal Element
When you checkout at the LCBO, they don’t offer to throw in some crack, MDMA, or meth, nor are you offered free samples. Teens who supply their classmates and friends with marijuana are exposed to criminals who want nothing more than to increase their sales of marijuana and other more dangerous illegal drugs.
The Burden of a Criminal Record
The vast majority of adults and youth who use marijuana will not become addicted to it. They are not a danger to themselves or others. How can we justify giving them a criminal record? To what end? A criminal conviction has major lifelong consequences for employment and travel which are grossly disproportional to the harm of smoking marijuana.
Much has been written about the importance of eliminating the stigma associated with mental health and addiction. The best way to do this with respect to addiction is to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of all illegal drugs. It is wrong to criminalize anyone, particularly a teenager, for substance use disorder.
By analogy, prior to 1972 it was illegal in Canada to attempt suicide. Fortunately, we figured out that depression is a public health issue, not a criminal one. Many health professionals are now advocating the same approach to substance use disorder.
- Discussion Paper by the Canadian Public Health Association
- Getting To Tomorrow: A Report on Canadian Drug Policy by the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition
I look forward to the day when we can say, “Remember when we used to criminalize people with substance use disorder, instead of treating them?”