What are we really saying – yes, no, maybe?

By Tullio Orlando, MSW RSW (Ph.D. Candidate, Social Work), Executive Director, Caritas

 What’s the difference between living and flying high over the state of Colorado? Answer: about 33,000 feet. Bad joke. Sad reality.

While in-flight from a trip to California recently, I again pondered the legalization of marijuana in the state that received the most news coverage for making this bold move. The debate has been raging ever since. How appropriate then that my thoughts drifted to the issue. I soared through what I imagined was purple haze over Colorado on my way home where we have yet to figure out what we should be saying about this subject.

Canada, of course, is not immune to this important and defining dialogue. When the leader of a major federal political party nonchalantly endorses legalization and a major research hospital located in Toronto formally promotes legalization (albeit with certain caveats) in its publicly available protocols on the subject, we are just as much in the conversation as our cousins south of the border.

Yet, it begs the question: Are we really making a big deal about what proponents of marijuana use are saying should be a slam-dunk when it comes to creating social and legal policy? Are we putting ourselves in harm’s way by making marijuana so readily and legally available to our younger generations? These and many hundreds more questions are fanning the fire of debate and while that in itself can be a good thing we need to be smart about what we’re debating.

Marijuana’s effects on young developing brains are indisputable. That’s not me saying that, it’s science. A recent Harvard and Northwestern University co-study revealed surprising facts when they examined the results of marijuana smoking even once or twice a week on 20 pot smokers ages 18-25. There was evidence of structural differences in two significant regions of the brain. The more the research subjects smoked, the greater the differences.

Perhaps this is where the debate should really begin – the message being given to young people. Our laws and social policies are convoluted with misinformation and moving targets. In essence, young people are not being given a clear message about the risks associated with pot. Today, marijuana has become more potent with its psychoactive compound, THC, has become more powerful exposing users to greater likelihood of paranoia and psychosis according to The New England Journal of Medicine in its June 2014 edition. Hospital emergency rooms have also seen increases in visits related to marijuana use that can only be attributed to the prevalence and increased potency of pot smoking. Higher potency also accelerates addiction. People don’t have to work as hard to get high with higher potency marijuana now on the market. Easier highs mean more vulnerability to addiction. American studies point that the present rate is one of 11 for adults; one of six for teenagers.

So, what are we really telling the young? That smoking legalized but unregulated pot is okay, not okay, or perhaps okay? With so much at stake, should we even be considering proclaiming legalization when we’re clearly inviting risk to the health of our young people? Perhaps we should think before speaking and doing.


Author’s Note:

 Readers can check out the research for themselves by searching Harvard-Northwestern University marijuana study, April 2014 at This is Your Brain on Drugs.

 Readers may also be interested in the New England Journal of Medicine, June 2014 edition by reading the article’s abstract  for Adverse Health Effects of Marijuana Use.

 Additional information can be obtained in Legally High at a Colorado Campus

 Further, if you’re concerned about the way the legalization of marijuana debate is unfolding in Canada and want your voice heard, send me your concerns about making pot legal and together we can engage the beginning phases of an advocacy movement to stop the legalization of marijuana in Canada.

 Send me your comments to tullio@caritas.ca and use Stop the Legalization of Marijuana in Canada as your subject line.