Public Service Announcement
I predicted that the barrage of anti-cannabis and ‘save-the-children’ propaganda would intensify the closer we get to the ‘big day’. This one stood out from the rest, and not in a good way.
Have you ever read or watched something that is being presented as fact that is so obviously false that you want to jump through the T.V. Or computer screen and choke someone? It happens to me on a regular basis and the story I read today on YorkRegion.com was particularly infuriating as it dealt with supposed professionals educating young people about the facts around cannabis legalization. What I read was so far from factual it was laughable.
Normally I would laugh it off as just another person looking for their 15 minutes of fame without bothering to educate themselves on the subject first. We’ve become accustomed to such folks trying to save the world with their decades-long reefer-madness propaganda campaigns. This one is different as it was promoted as an educational forum. Either the teachers and school board are equally ignorant to cannabis facts, or they didn’t vet their ‘experts’ properly or they willingly and knowingly allowed their students to be fed false information. None of those scenarios is complimentary to their profession and should be cause for concern for the parents of these kids. I recommend going to the website mentioned above and reading the entire article titled “In The Weed”. The basis for the story was a conference organized by the York Catholic School Board that allowed students to ask questions related to cannabis legalization.
In this article I’m going to focus on correcting the false answer given by the experts to some excellent questions put forward by the students. First lets introduce the panel charged with providing facts and truth to these young people.
Doug Macrae – York Regional Police School Resource Officer
Nigel Cole – YRP Drug Recognition Expert
Elena Hasheminejad – York Region Public Health Nurse
Stacy De Souza – Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
The first question was for Officer Macrae:
Q: What is the impact of legalized marijuana for law enforcement and the criminal justice system?
A: “For the first little while, I think we’ll see a rise in impaired driving. But there’s a misconception among youth that it’ll be a free-for-all. It absolutely will not. Instead of it being a criminal offense, it will be more like a traffic ticket, trying to keep you out of the courts. We haven’t been handed down any legislation yet, but $46 million has been set aside to educate public and institutions over the next five years, and York Regional Police has money to educate its officers.”
R (rebuttal): I question the logic used by Mr. Macrae to predict an increase in impaired driving. Canada already has one of the planet’s largest population of cannabis users so it would stand to reason we also hold that title when it comes to cannabis users with a car and a driver’s license. Studies and surveys have indicated there will not be a rush of new users as a result of legalization so I predict things will remain fairly static.
The big question is what will constitute impaired driving, how will that be determined and how that would or could be proven in court. There is currently no test that will show cannabis impairment such as an alcohol breathalyzer, and no thc level that can be used as a standard. They plan to get around the fact that they cannot prove impairment by giving police the power to be judge and jury and issue a fine based on their assumptions. I can guarantee this will be used as a cash cow for police forces as they can say you are impaired without any proof and write you a ticket. I strongly recommend everyone who receives such a ticket to contest it in court.
Q: How does the officer test if a driver is under the influence?
A: NIGEL COLE, YRP DRUG RECOGNITION OFFICER: When there is an initial stop of a vehicle, the officer questions the driver, takes note of any slurred speech, redness of eyes, odours, looks for paraphernalia — roaches, joints, minute trace of marijuana tobacco. At that point, an officer may ask the person to walk a straight line, put finger to nose, and ask the person to tilt his head back and estimate 30 seconds (which is quite comical for people who are under the influence. For someone on cocaine, it’s immediate; someone on fentanyl you may be waiting 20 minutes).
If those tests are failed, the person is taken back to the station for tests on heart rate, blood pressure, temperature pupil dilation and urine. Toronto is doing a pilot project with a litmus test that’s being used in Australia to determine what type of drug you’re on, to eliminate the walking at the side of the road; we may all end up with that method eventually. Offenders will be required to stay overnight in jail until they have sobered up. There will be an immediate license suspension for 90 days, the car will be impounded for seven days and legal fees can start at $10,000.
R: While the first two indicators that someone is under the influence, slurred speech and red eyes are legitimate, the rest may indicate that someone is a user but that does not hint at impairment. Cannabis odours are both intense and lingering. The smell sticks to your clothing and hair and you can emit an odour hours after your last toke. The presence of roaches and joints are not permitted in a vehicle so that would be an offense on it’s own, but again it does not point to being impaired. One thing that struck me was the term “marijuana tobacco”. Nigel Cole is a drug recognition officer, yet he somehow fails to recognize cannabis and tobacco are two very different species of plants. I’m sure the students had a good laugh.
He gives a brief description of a roadside sobriety test, and then talks about how cocaine and fentanyl affect the results. Why are hard drugs even mentioned in a discussion about cannabis with young people? Strange.
If the police officer thinks you have failed one or more of the tests he’s given you, or if he’s bored, or if he wants to generate revenue for the force or if he just doesn’t like you, it’s off to the police station for medical tests. Can a police officer perform medical tests? Hmm…isn’t that information privileged? I’d be really interested in seeing the scientific studies that list specific heart rates, blood pressure and/or temperature that could be used as proof of impairment in a court of law. Dilated pupils are a good indicator, but not enough to prove anything. A urine sample will also not provide any evidence of anything other than recent use.
The next statement is just bizarre. They want to test people to determine what drug they are on to “eliminate walking on the side of the road”. WTF? Maybe I missed it, but when did walking on the side of the road become a crime? A litmus test is a sample of your dna and as it provides no information important to public safety, it will be challenged and struck down. Next we hear Mr. Cole attempt to scare or confuse the impressionable youth by making a statement that clearly and fully contradicts Mr. Macrae’s answer to the previous question. The school police officer told the students that “it would be more like a traffic ticket” yet Officer Cole claims you receive an automatic night in jail, a 90 day license suspension, a 7 day vehicle impoundments and need legal council starting at $10,000. All that without having any factual evidence proving your ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired. I’m confused, so these kids must be shaking their heads.
Q: What’s more dangerous — driving under the influence of marijuana or alcohol?
A: COLE: It’s incredible how much marijuana — and all drugs — impact your ability to operate a motor vehicle.
A: ELENA HASHEMINEJAD, YORK REGION PUBLIC HEALTH NURSE: We don’t look at which is worse than the other. Impaired driving is impaired driving. Anything you take has serious risks and consequences.
A: STACY DE SOUZA, CENTRE FOR ADDICTION AND MENTAL HEALTH: Research is showing more and more young people 18-29 are at high risk of using cannabis and driving.
R: A great question by the students followed by three non-answers from the so-called experts. None of these experts were able or willing to explain the stark contrasts between alcohol intoxication versus cannabis. One would think that if you are attending an educational conference as a speaker you would bring material to support what you were saying. If cannabis impaired driving was an issue, there would be statistics and charts to demonstrate that to these kids. They had nothing. Mr. Cole makes a blanket statement about all drugs, Mrs. Hasheminejad thinks smoking a joint and doing heroin is comparable and Mrs. De Souza cites ‘research’ showing young people are “at risk of using cannabis and driving”, yet does not provide any evidence.
Q: Why is the proposed minimum age for legal pot use so low, when studies show that until you are 25 years old your brain is still under development?
A: MACRAE: The reason the government thinks this is the right age is because, if it’s any older, youth will buy off the street, and what’s on the street, in our experience, is almost always laced with something else — increasingly with fentanyl. If anything, it will get the junk off the street and money out of the pockets of criminals and it will be government-sanctioned, clean, medicinal marijuana.
R: Officer Cole’s response to this question highlights his ignorance of the subject and demonstrates the reluctance of law enforcement to accept cannabis as a legal substance. He claims cannabis bought off the street is “almost always” laced with fentanyl. I’m not sure where Mr. Cole has been plying his trade, but in my 40 years of cannabis use, and having lived in multiple regions of Canada I have not bought ‘laced pot’ nor has anyone I know. Perhaps Mr. Cole would be more believable if he had brought evidence to support this fairy tale. Fentanyl is deadly in minute concentrations so if there were cannabis laced with it, we would have seen an epidemic many times larger than the one affecting opiate users. Cannabis related deaths are still sitting at zero…
A proper response would have been that cannabis is a product restricted to adult consumption, much like alcohol. Instead he goes for reefer-madness fear-mongering.
Q: How long after you smoke pot do the effects linger in your system to impact driving?
A: HASHEMINEJAD: It’s a very complicated substance because it does stay in your body and if you’re a regular user, you’re going to experience impairment for a longer period of time.
A: DE SOUZA: It depends how often you’re using, the amount, the type of cannabis, whether you’re vaping or smoking joints. But you can take a blood or urine test three days after using and it will still show positive results. There should be a significant amount of time between using and driving, and I believe they are saying right now a minimum of four hours.
A. COLE: Back in the 1930s there was only three per cent THC (the active ingredient that makes you high) in cannabis, and now we’re up to 30 per cent, so there’s a huge difference in potency now on the street. It used to be impairment lasted three hours, but now it can be laced with other things and last much longer.
R: Another excellent question followed by three glaring examples of ignorance and misinformation. Having the wrong information can be more detrimental to young people than having no information at all. Why these ‘experts’ chose to lie to the students is a mystery, but they should all be reprimanded.
Mrs. Hasheminejad has things completely backwards when she claims regular users experience the effects for a longer period of time. It’s actually scary knowing there is a public health nurse who is so uninformed and confused about cannabis. The human body builds a tolerance to thc so regular users feel much less of an effect for a much shorter duration, if at all, than a new or occasional user. A medical user will have a high concentration of thc and be completely normal whereas a new user may be intoxicated at a much lower concentration. Exactly opposite of what the expert told these kids.
Mrs. De Souza is equally ignorant of facts and uses ‘significant amount of time’ and “they are saying right now a minimum of 4 hours” as her way of admitting she has no clue. Unlike alcohol, cannabis does not reduce or remove your ability to make smart choices. A new cannabis user will be acutely aware of their level of intoxication and can adjust their actions accordingly. A new user may need to wait 8 hours or more while a medical user is ‘sober’ in 20 minutes.
Officer Cole is the worst offender, resorting to outright lies and fiction. He claims cannabis had 3% thc in the 1930’s and now that number is 30%. And it last longer because ‘it is laced with something’. Maybe the good officer thinks the kids are stupid or do not have access to Google – Why else would he make a fool of himself by spouting absolute nonsense?
THC was identified and isolated by Raphael Mechoulam in 1966, so Mr. Cole needs to explain how he determined the potency of cannabis in the 1930’s. Again he warns street cannabis is ‘laced’ but provides nothing to substantiate the claim.
Q: Will it be an offense to provide marijuana to someone underage?
A: MACRAE: If you’re at home, and your parents serve you alcohol, it’s OK, but you won’t be able to do that with marijuana.
A: HASHEMINEJAD: If you provide cannabis to a minor there will be consequences, and if you grow it at home and give it to a minor there will be consequences. What’s encouraging, though, is a recent study asked people, if marijuana was legal, would they start using, and 58 per cent of Grades 9 to 12 students in York Region said they would not. Education is key to continue giving the message that marijuana causes harm to this age group’s developing brain.
R: The response of the school liaison officer to this student’s question was shocking. It is a criminal offense to provide alcohol to a minor in Canada. You cannot give kids booze because they are your kids. In some cases a glass of wine with the family meal is accepted, but it still remains a crime. Alcohol is one of the leading causes of accidents, violence and death among young Canadians, yet this police officer endorses supplying alcohol to your children. Just don’t give them cannabis, he says.
Mrs. Hasheminejad seems to think there is a distinction between providing cannabis to a minor and growing and providing cannabis to a minor.
Q: Do you think the pro’s of legalizing marijuana outweigh the cons?
A: COLE: I like this question because I get to give my personal opinion. You have peer pressure and drug dealers telling you about the great effects of marijuana, but I’m here to tell you there are some very negative effects. There’s a greater chance of having depression, anxiety, bipolar or schizophrenia. There are addictive qualities, psychosis risks, and it’s been proven to disrupt the neural pathways. The problem is, all this research has not had a chance to catch up to the laws. Trudeau is jumping ahead of the research and, unfortunately, you all are the guinea pigs and you have to make an educated choice.
A: MACRAE: They were having these same conversations in the 1920s when they legalized alcohol. It’s inevitable, it’s going to happen. In my experience as a police officer, the worst I have come across with people who are high on marijuana is they want to hug you. They’re really laid back unless they are the one-in-seven or -eight who has a psychotic episode. [Legalization] will get a lot of the crap off the street and put a dent in the wallet of criminals. I just hope that we will be educated enough, and parents take responsibility for educating their kids. Who locks away their liquor cabinet? I hope parents will be a lot more responsible when it comes to marijuana.
A: DE SOUZA: Not everyone gets psychosis, and I see way too many young people who used marijuana and faced criminal charges. That puts you at greater risk for not getting a job or traveling to the States, so I’m in favour of legalization.
A: HASHEMINEJAD: Canadian youth are among the highest users of cannabis in the world. Cannabis is being laced with other drugs, THC is not being controlled and the black market is strong. What we have in place right now is not working. Legalization may not be the answer, but the fact that we can sit today and have this conversation is because legalization is going forward. For many years we could not talk about it, about the harms or medicinal benefits. Now we have an opportunity to educate and regulate and do the research that has been lacking.
R: Four ‘experts’ and four very different responses to the same question. Only one was favourable.
We start with Mr. Cole who can’t help but inject his own political views into the conversation while continuing to spew misinformation, myths and lies to young people who are asking for guidance and facts. The health conditions he claims are caused or exasperated by cannabis are actually treated with the medical use of cannabis. Depression, anxiety and even ptsd are all conditions for with doctors will prescribe cannabis. Many of our war veterans use cannabis to help cope with all of those conditions. He makes mention of psychosis and schizophrenia as possible side effects of cannabis use, but then goes on to say science has not had a chance to catch up. Remember when I said thc was identified in the 1960’s? Research has been going on since that time. Fifty years seems ample time to prove or disprove a theory, yet Mr. Cole blames the prime minister and calls the kids, who are too young to be affected by legalization, his ‘guinea pigs’. Judging by the answers given by Officer Cole, he has not spent enough time studying the subject to have an opinion much less be in a position of ‘educating’ youth.
Next we have Mr. Macrae who thinks pot smokers want to hug him. I’ve yet to meet a pot smoker who wants to hug a cop, unless they are married to one. But given that that is the worst he’s seen from the use of cannabis, compared to alcohol or other drugs, I would take it as an endorsement. He seems to admit alcohol is a problem, but stops short of making any disparaging remarks about their parents booze cupboard, instead saying he hopes they lock up the cannabis.
Mrs. De Souza didn’t understand the question. “not everyone gets psychosis” is like saying not everyone gets struck by lightening. There has never been a documented case showing cannabis was the cause of psychosis, schizophrenia or any other mental illness. Some may be exasperated by cannabis, but they would also be susceptible to alcohol and other drugs. She then veers off on saying she is in favour of legalization to eliminate criminal records for users and avoid problems with employment and travel. She makes the most sense.
Lastly we get to Mrs. Hasheminejad’s biased opinion saying legalization is not the answer but we are having it forced on us. She claims cannabis is being laced with other drugs – yet like the police officers beside her, she is unable to provide any evidence to verify this claim. Cannabis is one of the cheapest recreational substances out there – why would a seller secretly add a dangerous (and more expensive) substance without increasing the price of his product? Wouldn’t he or she be cutting into their profit margin? How does that make sense to anybody? Then she comes out with a real zinger to end the show. According to this fine nurse, for many years they could not talk about the medical benefits or harms of cannabis use, but now that legalization is being forced on us, they have the opportunity to “do the research that was lacking”.
Excuse me? Who ever told her or anyone else that they were forbidden from discussing cannabis? I have been discussing it since 1978. The amount of research that has gone into cannabis is mind blowing, so the fact that this nurse has not taken the time to educate herself is more than a little strange. Canada has had the legal use of cannabis for 18 years with several hundred-thousand registered patients. It seems absolutely incredible that Mrs. Hasheminejad has not encountered people who have the knowledge in her career as a nurse. She has known for three years that recreational use of cannabis was coming to Canada, yet she has made no effort to prepare herself.
If I were a parent of one of these unfortunate students, I would be extremely upset that the people charged with providing my child with an education could allow a panel of people who sit in a position of trust and authority over them, to feed them misinformation and lies. Not only are you setting these kids up for failure, you are instilling a lifelong distrust of law enforcement and medical professionals. If you have been lied to once over use of a harmless plant, how likely are you to trust or believe anything these professional say in the future?
Reefer-madness had that effect on me 40 years ago and the 21st century version is not looking any better. While an honest, open discussion can have a lasting positive effect on a young life, dishonesty and fear mongering can have the opposite effect.
On a side note: We are in the grips of a opiate overdose epidemic and alcohol is still as popular and dangerous as it ever was – why are there no similar conferences to address the issues with deadly consequences rather than relatively benign cannabis? One has to wonder if the safety of our youth even concerns them….