A long moment of truth from the West Kootenay Weekender (Canada)
West Kootenay Weekender ( Nelson Daily News) (Canada)
SMOKE AND MIRRORS - DO YOU KNOW EVERYTHING YOU THINK YOU KNOW ABOUT PUFFING POT?
Marijuana: A harmless gateway to mind-opening experiences and relaxation, or the first step into a criminal world of psychosis and darker drugs?
According to countless studies, marijuana is...
Actually, the studies on marijuana seem to be as clouded as the smoke exhaled from a token joint.
Proponents and opponents of the drug both have studies to rely on, and both sides claim their studies are sound, refuting information provided by the other's.
Paul Defilice, co-owner of the Holy Smoke Culture Shop in Nelson says Cannabis, the plant from which marijuana comes is relatively harmless when used responsibly. While he concedes there are people addicted to marijuana, Defilice said some people are also addicted to other pastimes which are beneficial in moderation, but harmful when done excessively. "Basically any pleasurable behavior has the potential to be addictive," said Defilice, using a runner who jogs 50 miles a day as an example. Although jogging has numerous health benefits. Defilice said a runner who overdoes it may do his muscles and joints more harm than good. When used conservatively Defilice said marijuana has various benefits and few harmful side affects.
"I look at it more spiritually than anything else. It's important for self-knowledge and creativity. It releases the tedium of monotonous work and increases enjoyment of music, art and conversation," Defilice said. "It also clears my sinuses," he added with a chuckle.
An RCMP fact sheet published in the Nelson Daily News states a marijuana cigarette's tar content is 50 to 100 per cent greater than one filled with tobacco, and its smoke is typically inhaled 33 per cent deeper and held four times as long. The sheet says, because marijuana contains two powerful carcinogens, smoking three to five joints a week is the same as consuming 16 cigarettes a day.
Defilice, however, said the two habits are actually opposite in effect. "It's not a real comparison to compare cigarette smoke to cannabis smoke because one is harmful and the other is healing."
Cannabis is a vasodilator, said Defilice, meaning it expands blood vessels, rather than vasoconstrictor like cigarette smoke which constricts vessels and that when cannabis is smoked through water pipes, bongs or hookahs, most harmful gassess and 90 per cent of tar are filtered out. Defilice said longterm use by residents in Puerto Rico and India actually show a decrease in incidents of emphysema and lung disease.
He also said recent events which received wide-stream media coverage such as Canadian Olympic snowboarder Ross Rebagliatti's gold medal, legalization of industrial hemp, and recent court victories providing for use of cannabis in certain medical situations brought cannabis into the open like never before.
"We're riding the crest of a cannabis wave. Public awareness is at an all-time high. We've found from these events that the public does have an acceptance.
Defilice claims that cannabis opens up the mind, unlike other drugs, which he says rob users of their self-control.
"It's definitely a barrier-dissolving experience, but not an inhibition-dissolving experience," he said.
In many cases, said Defilice, marijuana oppontent theories don't have anything to back them up, and that all the reports he has seen do not lend credence to the negative studies, and in some cases show the opposite. The police fact sheet also said that, of teens who use pot before they are 18, 43 percent also experiment with cocaine, as opposed to less than one per cent of non-smokers.
Defilice said he hasn't personally seen marijuana lead to harder drug abuse, but said if it does happen, it's because cannabis is only sold behind closed doors.
"That same dealer is going to have cocaine or heroin or harder drugs." In fact, Defilice said that from his experience, people addicted to heavier drugs can actually use cannabis to beat their addictions. "Ive seen it used as a gateway away from harder drugs. It either creates a consciousness or substitutes for other drugs."
He said erroneous information about cannabis can be damaging becauses when people see it isn't as bad as it's portrayed, they may not believe true caveats about more dangerous drugs.
"It's these kinds of lies that totally undermine drug education by causing children to question the tuth about all drugs.
"When asked about studies which say marijuana can have long-lasting effects after smoked. Defilice said that while trace metabolites which don't effect a person stay in his or her system for weeks or months because they are fat soluble, the effects of cannabis actually disappear within six hours - more quickly than alcohol.
Castlegar RCMP Cst. Don Woodhouse said his detachment doesn't distribute a marijuana fact sheet that he is aware of, and marijuana is not a huge problem in this city.
"We probably have a higher cocaine problem here than we do with marijuana,"said Woodhouse.
In 1997, Castlegar RCMP laid 60 charges for marijuana possession and 10 for trafficking. All the charges varied in scope from miniscule amounts to a top bust last fall of a plot containing at least 400 plants valued at about $1,500 each or some $600,000 in total.
"There's a lot of pot grown around here. I don't think that's a big secret to too many people," said Woodhouse.
As law enforcers, Woodhous said Castlegar RCMP have a duty to follow the laws set in the books by the government.
He said the biggest concern for this detachment is individuals pushing illegal drugs on younger teens and children, because kids might not have the ability to make the right decisions or be aware of the repercussions. He said adults know the risks when they do something illegal, while children might not.
"You take your chances, ( but) the decision should be made as an adult not a kid. I think it's a matter of education, then choices," said Woodhouse.
Woodhouse frowns on the term "war against drugs" because it promotes an attitude or confrontation not cooperation.
"I don't believe in us against them. We're all part of the same community and we need to work together. A continual combative attitude is not a healthy thing in any community. If we had proper communication then maybe something would get solved."
Jim Gouk, West Kootenay-Okanagan Reform MP, said he never smoked marijuana, has no desire to smoke it and does not advocate smoking it. However Gouk said he realizes there are lots of people in the Kootenays who are using it and that current laws aren't working.
"If you create a law that nobody's going to obey...then you've got to re-examine that law. We're trying to enforce an unenforceable law," he said.
The system we've got now isn't working well. We should be taking a hard look at it."
Gouk said ramming changes down the public's throat is the wrong way to improve the situation. He wants to put some genuine facts to the public and hold forums so the public can ask questions, get answers, and provide their input.
"First you've got to allow people input. We can't make the decision for people. People should be able to make the decision for themselves, but the decision should be based on information and facts, not rumors, rhetoric and fear."
Gouk said meangful dialogue may help eliminate overreaction from groups for and against marijuana use and legalization - groups which tend to be polar opposites when it comes to the issue. While he isn't sure legalization is the right path to follow, Gouk said legalizing marijuana and taxing it could help boost the education and health systems, or provide funds for drug counselling and education.
"If we can't stop it maybe we should be getting some money from it." Legalizing it would also allow for greater control of how cannabis is produced and sold. Gouk said many of the harmful effects of marijuana might come from chemicals used in growing it or from lacing it with substances which enhance the drug's effects for those who use it. Gouk said a possible first step could be decriminalization, which would keep marijuana illegal, but would remove the criminal aspect of it. If decriminalized, punishment for simple possession could range from a fine to community work service. The "offender" would serve no jail time, nor would he or she retain a criminal record for simple possession. Gouk said decriminalization would greatly decrease the overwhelming economic and social costs associated with prosecuting such cases. Several years ago, said Gouk, a crown prosecutor told him a simple charge of possession can cost the system $10,000 - #30,000 and quite often only results in a minor fine or slap on the wrist of the accused.
Decriminalization would also remove the criminal stigma associated with a drug conviction. As well, those convicted are often of simple marijuana possession are often denied entry to the U.S. and disqualified from applying for or obtaining many jobs. That could change with decriminalization.
"It would remove some of the stigma of a criminal record for taking a puff from one joint," he said.
Before any changes are made, however, Gouk said the public has to have its say.
"We have to look at something that most people can buy into before we make any changes."
While the number of people who smoke marijuana in Castlegar might be high, the number addicted to it or at least seeking help for addiction is small. Jan Rebus, Castlegar and District Community Services Centre alcohol and drug counselor helped three people last year who said they were addicted to marijuana. That's half the number Rebus counselled for cocaine in the same time frame.
Rebus said the difference between people addicted to marijuana as opposed to alcohol comes from how she deals with the situation and not the way addiction affects individuals.
"There's lots of different reasons people use. When someone comes for counselling they're experiencing problems."
Because it's illegal, Rebus can't recommend people simply cut back on their marijuana use.
"You can't counsel someone to use an illegal drug responsibly," she said.
Like Defilice and Gouk, Rebus said the public needs clear, factual information about marijuana.
"I think a lot of the information out there is outdated. I think factual information is really helpful," she said.
As far as legalizing marijuana goes, Rebus said it wouldn't change her job. Alcohol is legal, and Rebus treated 37 people for alcohol abuses in the last 12 months.
"I don't think legalizing it ( marijuana) would make more problems or less problems."
Defilice said he definitely thinks marihuana should be legalized with minimal controls, including being taxed similar to alcohol, no advertising, allowance for home growers like that for home wine and beer brewers, and restrictions on use by minors.
"It's less harmful and addictive than coffee, and we should treat it that way."