Every time I hear the "think of the children" argument in relation to marijuana prohibition, my eyes roll into the back of my head.
In general, weed is a benign substance, proven to be far less harmful than alcohol or tobacco in terms of negative health effects, and yet both of those things are 100 percent legal and socially acceptable.
Still, when I come across warnings about the impact weed has on young brains, I can't help but think of my own experience.
A recent study published in science journal Addiction, tracked a group of students over a seven-year-period through middle school and high school. It found that pot smoking was predictive of "lower academic functioning, being less prepared for school, more delinquent behavior, and poorer mental health." Meanwhile, a survey commissioned by the Australian government showed that smoking weed at an early age (14 or younger) "is associated with significantly lower university entrance scores for those who obtain one."
More research is likely needed in these areas, but, anecdotally speaking, these conclusions seem plausible. My own life is a cautionary tale.
Growing up, I was a straight A student—a debate star and two-time Roman Catholic trivia champion. The only class I didn't do well in was phys ed, because I had zero athletic prowess; I would often pretend to lose my gym strip so I could sit on the sidelines and read a book instead of playing dodgeball.
The all-girls high school I went to was selective in who it granted entry and extremely strict. It consistently ranks first in those Fraser Institute reports everyone loves to hate so much—an achievement administrators wouldn't let students forget. Banners hanging throughout the school literally read "Number 1 school in the province" or something to that effect. We were inundated with hours of homework, and had tough, non-provincially required, exams several times a year to prepare us for post-secondary. To ensure I studied adequately for them without distractions, my parents would cut off our cable in the weeks prior. Skipping class meant getting into major shit (and was virtually unheard of); wearing nail polish was met with detention. University was pegged as the only option for grads—"college" was considered a dirty word. The rigidity wore on me, and after two years I begged my folks to let me transfer to a nearby public school. They agreed, thinking I would take up an advanced placement program the school offered. But… I didn't.
Instead, as much as it sounds like a cliche, I got totally drunk off my newfound freedom. I was now attending a school that had five times the student population. Teachers didn't seem to know your name let alone notice if you didn't show up for class. Eventually, I started partying, weed being my drug of choice. I was tight with a classmate who was also our dealer, which meant access wasn't an issue. Before long, I found myself skipping school to blaze in the parking lot, or attending class high. I started off Grade 12 OK—still pulling mostly As and Bs—but as graduation neared, most of those grades were down by half. My guidance counsellor and teachers begged me to attend class, because at this point I was missing an average of one a day, even threatening to ban me from prom. University began to seem like a goal that was farther and farther out of reach. But the thing was, I just didn't give a fuck. I was more or less in a fog where I'd lost all motivation to excel and was just living—and getting high—day to day.
In the end, I graduated, but didn't go to university. Instead I worked a shitty job at Canadian Tire for a year, hired by my friend, a manager who also happened to be the biggest stoner I knew. I continued to smoke pot almost every day, while simultaneously becoming depressed about the monotony of my meaningless job.
The hellishness of that period of my life was enough to spark something in me and I applied for and was accepted into a journalism program at a local college. Within the first day, during which we dissected some old newspaper article that I can't even remember anymore, something inside of my brain clicked and I knew I was in the right place. Following years of complete indifference, this feeling was a relief—I was finally passionate about something again.
I kept smoking weed often—by this point, I was pretty much unable to enjoy things like watching a movie without being baked—but was no longer letting it get in the way of my work.
Career-wise, things turned out OK for me. But breaking into journalism is hard to do, and I think having a university degree and the connections that come with it might have helped me land some breaks earlier on. There's also a certain sense of shame I've felt about never having gone to university. I wonder how things could've turned out for me, had I not been such a stoner in those last crucial couple years of high school and instead stayed on the track I'd been on for most of my life up until that point. Maybe I would've had an amazing career in semiotics, or at the very least, been better at feigning outrage on Twitter.
In my mid-20s, I all but stopped smoking weed. It wasn't fun anymore, often reducing me to a paranoid mute in social situations. Lately, I've been experimenting with it again because dispensaries make it easier to know what strains you're getting and what effects they'll have. That's one of the benefits I think legalization will have, in addition to making it more difficult for kids to get their hands on weed by removing it from the black market.
It would be unfair to blame all of my problems on marijuana, when clearly the environment I grew up in was also a factor. But saying that weed is "harmless" is a statement that needs context. True, it's not going to give anyone cancer, but for young people in need of an outlet, it certainly provides an easy excuse to operate on autopilot. To be fair though, it seems to have worked out fine for Miley Cyrus.