As it has been over the last few years, the reality of marijuana and its impact on our society is a hot topic. This has never been truer than right now, as many American states have legalized its use fully, and there are allowances for medical-based use and production in many more areas, including Canada. A requisite element of this debate also comes through its polarity: you are either strongly for its legalization and availability for use, or you are against it. There seems to be little if any room in the middle for discussion. Regardless of which side of the fence you are on, there is no denying marijuana is likely to occupy a much larger part of our culture as we move forward.
I have also noticed most people approach this debate with their primary viewpoint being a moral one: either they believe in greater freedom and less government intrusion, symbolized by legalized marijuana, or they do not accept that a moral and healthy society can have any number of drugs as part of it, and they must be controlled at all cost. Both sides have powerful and reasonable arguments, and could rightly claim to have some degree of common sense backing them up. However, my own view fits neatly into neither of these two camps, and is in fact based largely upon my own work with teens and their families.
The biggest problem I have with marijuana's increasing availability, and its growing acceptance as a regular part of life among many teens, is its tendency to discourage one from dealing with any of the problems or challenges that its use might be helping to cope with. Phrased another way - regular use of marijuana, just like alcohol or narcotics, is unlikely to help someone to find the courage to take action, while reducing the natural tendency to avoid the discomfort and energy exertion of creating change in the first place. If one is feeling fear or pain from a difficult relationship with a family member, for example, it may often be easier to use marijuana for some temporary relief, rather than have a conversation or seek some support in finding a more permanent relief.
Human beings will almost always, as a species, seek out and utilize easier solutions to problems before embracing the more difficult solutions. Unfortunately, where marijuana is involved, I am aware of many examples of teens and young adults who became stuck (both emotionally and physiologically) in this method of dealing with tough life situations, and allowed pain, resentment, and damaged relationships to labour on years longer than might have been required otherwise. The natural progression, then, of accepting progressively more difficult but necessary measures to solve problems and reduce anxieties is interfered with; even with support of wonderful people in our lives, it can be a real challenge to move past the marijuana option that is becoming more commonplace.
There was an outstanding commercial on television a few years ago, and it illustrated this point very well. It showed a boy, roughly 12 years old, describing how his brother used marijuana, but did not "start using cocaine or heroin, didn't hit me, and didn't get in trouble with the law". The ad appeared at first to be a defence of its use! The key was the last line the boy said: "In fact, he doesn't do much of anything", revealing a picture of his 20-ish brother sitting in the basement watching cartoons, eating snack foods, and annoyed that others apparently just won't leave him alone. The message was clear - while it may be debatable whether pot use is a gateway to intense drug use, or engaging in obviously harmful life choices of other types, it is not debatable that its use saps a person of their willingness to move forward in healthy ways, including solving problems with methods that we can learn and grow from.
As a counseling therapist, I have learned that the fastest and most effective way to help someone generally is to empower them to deal with their anxieties and difficulties head-on, and come to a place where they understand that staying put will bring only cold comfort. This process can be slowed or totally stopped when drugs are part of the picture, including not just marijuana, but also alcohol, and certainly any number of narcotics one can take. There may be a legitimate need that starts the drug use in the first place, and the more ingrained its use becomes, of course, the more difficult to move past it. Moving past any reliance on drugs of any kind will be a necessary component to moving forward in one's life in a healthy way, and creating a new and wonderful reality with enriching relationships and clear, meaningful purpose.
Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and parents. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner. Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life. Find more about him and his practice: