Revy Let’s Talk: What’s the truth about all this smoke?

Stacie Byrne

CYMHSA Project Lead

With the legalization of cannabis just a week away, it’s got a lot of people talking. Some are talking with the intention of breaking down walls and learning more; coming forward with questions and curiosities. Others are talking with the intention of putting up barricades between ‘us’ and ‘them’; coming forward with strong beliefs and concerns.

People are talking about the smell, the risk, the rules, the regulation, the decrease in property value, the increase in tax-generated revenue, the differences and similarities between weed and alcohol, the opposing opinions and values, the confusion and the uncertainty, the judgment and the shaming. But at the end of the day, what are people most concerned about? The youth.

From the cannabis community survey, we’ve heard the following quotes:

“Please do not forget about the impact on youth…it is significant.”

“No [dispensary] in public!!! Especially not around children”

“We as a society are not ready. We need as much education as there is around alcohol.”

“I believe keeping retail stores Central Downtown will deter curious youth from trying to sneak in”

“Keep kids informed.”

“It doesn’t matter where you put it, it’s a small enough city. If a kid wants to check it out they will. It will be up to staff to ID and parents to educate”.

So, what does this look like from a parent’s perspective? One parent in Revelstoke (who prefers to remain anonymous) reached out to me to talk about their families struggle with knowing what to do next and how to best support their family.

“When issues came up, we told each other ‘This is something we’ll deal with as a family; no one else needs to know.’ And that worked… for a while. No one knew what was going on and to everyone else we looked normal. But the walls that I had build around us to protect my family were starting to suffocate us… and then everything started to crack under the pressure to hold it all together and we were lost. We didn’t realize how bad our situation had gotten until the light started to come through the cracks of that wall that was crumbling and I got a better view of what was happening. Looking back, I can’t believe how stupid I was to close us off. How could I not see what I was doing to my family? If I could go back and do it all over again, I would… I wouldn’t have hidden things for so long. I would have talked more, I would have said how scared I was. I would have realized there were others out there feeling just like me. I would have asked for help”.

As I talk over the phone with this parent, I couldn’t help but feel like I had heard this story before. All of the onus and responsibility falling on the parents’ shoulder’s (especially when things are going wrong) while feeling like there are no tools or supports and no one else would understand. Feelings of shame, stigma and fear to reach out for help end up harming us in the end.

It got me thinking “what information would a parent receive if they asked the question ‘I want to learn more’.” I reached out to our local community members including Jo-Ann Scarcella (Public Health Nurse), Julie Lowes (Site Manager at Queen Victoria Hospital), Jill Zacharias (Social Development Coordinator), Stephanie Melnyk (Victim Services) and a parent who prefers to remain anonymous. I was overwhelmed with how quickly they responded with reputable links and information ranging from Interior Health Toolkits for teachers and parents with tips on how to talk to kids about substance use to quick reads on Understanding Substance Use and the interaction it has with our social and physical environment; from the Government of Canada and University of Victoria links and factsheets to a parents attempts to stop the dangerously high number of youth she hears about vaping in our high school bathrooms, change rooms, and smoke pit.

The legalization of cannabis creates a ripe environment for us to ask questions, learn more, and better understand and education ourselves and our children. As Stephanie Melnyk from Victim Services stated: “I believe cannabis legalization provides a great opportunity for a bigger conversation with our kids about how we all make decisions, what’s important to us and how substance use (from drinking coffee to prescription drugs to cannabis use) might fit into our lives without harm”. “We need to teach our children how, and empower them, to have good decision-making skills as they grow” explains Jill Zacharias, Social Development Coordinator.

“Asking for help can be hard, but dealing with the fallout of not asking for help is even harder”. The parent from the story earlier knows all too well how quickly things can shift from being manageable to getting out of control. “If you have concerns, don’t miss or dismiss your feelings. Don’t avoid the situation thinking it’s a phase and every kid goes through it. There is so much information out there!” She recommends taking your time going through it. “This isn’t something we’re all going to learn and understand overnight.” Reaching out to your kid’s teachers and administrators, the parents of your kids’ peers and friends, your family doctor, and anyone else listed above can be a good start. As a community we know more now and have more resources available to support our families than we have in the past. The connections between mental health and addiction is better understood. And most of the people you’ll be reaching out to are parent’s themselves and know how challenging raising a child in today’s society can be.

How do we make it safe to reach out and ask questions? We need to give more weight to fact-based arguments than we do to value-based judgments. Don’t stop the dialogue. Keep the Resources and links available on our website at RevelstokeCYMHSU.wordpress.com or email Stacie at RevelstokeCYMHSU@gmail.com

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