Young Yukoners are going to pot

It’s accessible, it’s affordable and it’s an attractive drug for the shy or anxious or just bored.

It’s accessible, it’s affordable and it’s an attractive drug for the shy or anxious or just bored.

Marijuana is the drug of choice for many in the territory and its use is on the rise, especially among young people.

An estimated 21 per cent of Yukoners have smoked pot in the past year, according to results from a recent addictions survey.

That’s the highest rate in Canada. BC came in second at 17 per cent.

And it’s well above the national average of 14 per cent.

Among Yukon youth aged 15 to 19, that number skyrockets to 34 per cent, said Sandy Bowlby, prevention consultant with alcohol and drug services.

And 52 per cent of Yukoners between 20 and 24 light up on a regular basis.

“Percentage-wise it’s very much the younger age group that’s using,” she said.

“One thing the research is definitely clear on is the younger people start using marijuana the more likely they are to become dependant, and the more likely they are to use other illicit drugs,” Bowlby told a small group gathered at the Gold Rush Inn last week for a Yukon government hosted meeting on marijuana.

Despite the meagre attendance, a few parents in the group came forward with some big concerns about what they can do when their kids light up.

“What can I do if my child is smoking pot? Can I call the RCMP?” one concerned parent asked Cpl. Jamie McGowan, who works with the Whitehorse detachment on drug and organized crime awareness.

“If you call me and say, ‘John Smith is using marijuana,’ there’s basically nothing at that point that I can go do,” he answered.

“In order to search someone and go through their pockets, I have to have reasonable and probable grounds that they, at that moment, have committed an offence, are under arrest or have reasonable grounds to believe that they possess that marijuana.

“Generally that’s the case,” he said.

Another parent raised concerns about the Yukon’s lack of options for treatment and detox.

“There are no treatment facilities in this town for young people at all,” said Norma Kassi, who brought her 15-year-old son to the meeting.

“It’s worrisome, as a parent and as a grandmother,” said Kassi.

“It’s very scary because you don’t know what to do or where to go, and it’s just getting worse.

“We really don’t have any aggressive drug education in this territory.

“We’re losing our youth in many ways,” added Kassi, who is also a member of the Arctic Health Research Network.

Currently, Whitehorse has no treatment facility dedicated to youth, said Madeleine Pulze, youth addictions worker with alcohol and drug services.

“One day we might have a program in the Yukon, but it’s not something we hear about.”

Inpatient detox treatment is open to people 18 and older. Youth have access to counselling in the territory, but a family can choose Outside treatment for one, two or six-month stints, said Pulze.

“It’s difficult — when we work with youth we need to have them on our side.

“If they don’t want to go and they don’t want to change, then we can’t force them.”

Marijuana is the most common drug Pulze sees when she counsels students in local schools.

“Usually they don’t see it as harmful as other drugs,” said Pulze.

“They see it as natural and they think that means it’s not harmful.”

Marijuana is the most widely abused illicit drug in the Yukon, followed by cocaine, said Cpl. McGowan.

Pot cultivation in BC surpasses the province’s fruit-growing industry, said McGowan, who guesses a large amount of the pot in the Yukon can be traced back to that fertile province.

“As everyone knows, it’s become socially acceptable and it’s seen as a victimless crime,” said McGowan.

But it is not victimless when you trace the drug’s origins, he added.

“The drugs that are coming into the Yukon are certainly supplied by organized crime,” said McGowan.

Organized crime groups are funding themselves using pot proceeds. British Columbia’s Hell’s Angels are the richest in the world and that’s because of the marijuana and pot coming out of that province.

Marijuana 101

Marijuana is the whole plant that’s cut up and dried.

Ganga is the term for the plant’s flowering tops and hashish is the plant’s dried chunky resin.

One marijuana plant fruits about three ounces of smokeable pot.

And there are 28 grams in an ounce.

One gram of pot sells for about $15 to $20 on the street.

The effects of smoking marijuana are usually felt immediately and last for one to three hours.

As THC, the active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol, enters the brain users feel euphoric, they may experience sounds and sensations more intensely.

Their judgment and focus may be impaired and they may feel hungry, thirsty or sleepy.

Heavy use impairs memory, co-ordination and balance, and may lead to diseases like cancer and emphysema.

Experts have trouble pinning down the exact health consequences of marijuana because users often take it with other drugs such as alcohol or tobacco.

Pot is a different drug than it was in the 1970s.

Higher THC levels make the drug more potent.

In the ‘70s, pot contained three or four per cent THC.

Today police are seeing pot with 17 per cent THC.