I remember the kids who smoked pot in high school and it certainly didn't do them much good. It was the normal story, I suppose. Repeated in every high school. Some of them seemed to get slower, seemed to be less motivated. They drifted away. We drifted apart. Some of the stoners went on to have problems with depression. None of the kids who smoked a lot of pot at school went on to win the Nobel Prize in physics.
If you missed it, on Thursday, researchers from Oxford and McGill Universities published a meta-analysis of cannabis use in young people. Basically they found that if young people use cannabis regularly, they're more likely to be at risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies as adults. There's no question: cannabis is bad for developing brains.
Now, this wasn't news to me. I've had a keen interest in drug reform in the past few years, and I reckon this should be the number one concern for New Zealand as we consider decriminalising cannabis, or indeed legalising a regulated market where people can go and buy cannabis products at the local shops. I want to make access for young people harder.
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I agree, it goes against natural instincts. But the best way to make access harder, to stop kids from using cannabis when their brains are still developing, is to legalise it.
Imagine you're 15 years old again. Imagine you and your mates want to get some pot, and you've heard through some other kids at school who best to go to, or who to ask. A drug dealer is NOT going to be asking anyone for ID. Keep in mind, as it is, we have one of the highest cannabis usage rates in the World. Cannabis is illegal but young people face very few barriers in accessing the drug.
Compare that with cigarettes. If kids today want to get smokes, they have to save up for about a year to afford a packet. And whether they're buying from the local dairy, or a supermarket, they have to show ID. We combine that with a massive advertising campaign. And what's the net result? Smoking rates in young people have steadily fallen in the last few years in New Zealand – and even if they want to smoke, it's really hard for kids to get their hands on cigarettes.
I'm not saying there won't be exceptions. I'm not saying there won't be some irresponsible adults who give their kids cannabis products, that people won't steal cannabis products, that the black market will be absolutely 100 per cent destroyed. I'm not saying this is a perfect fix.
But I think we're sophisticated enough to consider the nuance of this issue. Since the Government announced the cannabis referendum, I've been a little disheartened by some of the commentary on both sides of the argument. The anti-cannabis lobby have been scare-mongering. The National Party has been fishing for criticisms and in my eyes hasn't really landed on a cohesive argument against reform. But I think the pro-cannabis lobby sometimes paints the drug as being almost harmless. And it really isn't.
If I think back to the school, and the best way to stop the stoner kids from damaging their brains, it isn't to increase penalties or punish them for being found with a joint. The best way to protect our kids is to legalise it.