Youth story: One year of cannabis legalization in Alberta

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This story was written by a member of Kids Help Phone’s National Youth Council (NYC).

The legalization of cannabis (a.k.a. marijuana, weed or pot) in October 2018 was a hot topic across Canada. Now, with the one-year anniversary of cannabis legalization approaching, I wanted to reflect on what’s changed for me — and what hasn’t — over the past year.

Thoughts, questions and concerns before cannabis legalization

I heard quite a few arguments on both sides of cannabis legalization. There seemed to be mixed feelings about the pros and cons this change would have, and many people were quite concerned about the impact legalization may have on youth.

I talked to people who thought legalization was a way to improve quality and reduce the risks around buying cannabis. However, others thought legalization would lead to more people using it, higher crime rates and other unpleasant outcomes for communities in Alberta. All of these conflicting perspectives were a bit confusing for me.

I guess I thought cannabis was not necessarily more harmful than other legal substances (such as alcohol), but that it still could have some negative impacts if people started using it too early or without fully understanding its effects. But I also didn’t know how my city would change once legalization took place…

What I observed after cannabis legalization

As of August 2019, I can report that not much has changed for me personally. Aside from some dispensaries popping up across my city, many of the other changes and concerns I’d heard about haven’t happened yet. Maybe it’s because things are still new, but I haven’t noticed many differences in the way my peers or I go about our day-to-day lives.

There have actually been some benefits for friends of mine who use cannabis regularly. They’re benefiting from more choice, increased safety and the additional freedom that legalization provides. Many people in my area say they feel far less stress and fear about using cannabis.

On the flipside, I’ve noticed an increase in the social pressure to use cannabis. I think decreased stigma and fewer legal risks have helped normalize cannabis for young people in Canada. Though it wasn’t uncommon before, cannabis has become an increasingly popular choice at social gatherings, parties and other occasions I’ve attended. Although this could be a benefit for those who use cannabis, it can actually become socially uncomfortable for those who aren’t using it.

Overall, I think cannabis legalization has had mostly positive outcomes, but there does seem to be more peer pressure to use cannabis in many social circles — even mine. Although the choice to use anything, including cannabis, is entirely your own, saying “no” can sometimes make you feel excluded. When it comes to making a decision like this, I think it’s important to reach out for help and weigh the pros and cons. Talking to someone — a friend, relative, teacher or someone else you trust — can help you make an informed decision on your own terms.

The decision to use cannabis is completely up to you. If you choose to use cannabis, it’s important to know about safer substance use. If you would like more information about cannabis, substance use, peer pressure or anything else, you can reach out to Kids Help Phone for support 24/7.

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