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Pot pros, cons yet to be weighed

his painting, by artist Stevie Nande, stood on the main street of Fort Liard near the hamlet office. Some youth in the community fear legalizing marijuana could be as harmful as allowing alcohol.

As the federal government moves ahead with plans to legalize marijuana, one youth in Fort Liard says something needs to be done to fizzle out weed culture among teens.

The youth, who is not being named due to his age and the fact he is from a small community, says he stopped using marijuana a couple years ago and hasn't looked back. Now, he is strongly against legalization.

“I used to see my family members do it, and I thought, 'well, if they do it, then I think it's OK for me to do it,'” he said.

That mentality is common among teens in the community. When asked whether he sees other youth using marijuana regularly, he replied, “Oh yes – tons.”

“They smoke weed from the age 12 and up. I hate seeing my friends going to (sports) at night high,” he said.

Part of that comes from role models teens choose to emulate, such as rapper Snoop Dogg. But weed culture is facilitated by dealers in the community who supply youth with marijuana, he said.

With legalization on the horizon, he sees a future where more youth can access the drug, despite a planned restriction on age. Before that happens, he hopes steps can be taken to remove dealers from the community.

“The youth are trying to build something for themselves and the future, and not wrecking their childhood with (marijuana),” he said.

“It slows them down, you do poor in school, you can lose part of your childhood. Why sell to a minor?

“I think marijuana does the same damage as alcohol. And most people don't realize that.”

Many small communities in the Northwest Territories have yet to have a serious discussion about what the legalization of marijuana could mean for them.

That includes communities where the sale of alcohol is limited or prohibited, such as Deline, Tulita and Fort Liard.

Leaders in those communities said legalization will need to be discussed at a community level before they decide how to deal with it.

Tulita mayor Rocky Norwegian said his community, which limits alcohol use, is currently focused on dealing with alcohol and preventing hard drugs from entering.

“Personally, to be honest with you, I've lived here and I'm here every day but I don't really see any problems arising in our community related to marijuana,” Norwegian said.

“We haven't really thought about it.”

Community pot poll proposed

J.C. Catholique, from Lutsel K'e, wants to see the territorial or local government roll out an education campaign before legalization happens. After that, he hopes to see a community-wide vote on whether to include marijuana in Lutsel K'e's prohibition bylaw.

“I think people really need to understand what they're getting into,” he said.

“It's something we need to discuss before marijuana is legalized. You need to understand all these pros and cons about having marijuana in the community, because who knows? They might open up a smoke shop here.”

Lutsel K'e has been a dry community for decades. Catholique recalls prohibition being introduced either in the 1960s or 1970s.

Education could help the community avoid a repeat of what happened when prohibition happened, he says.

“It just happened overnight. At one moment, you were allowed to drink, and the next day you couldn't. So people who do have alcohol problems, they never had the ability to deal with their addiction,” he said.

Similarly, if marijuana is legalized before Lutsel K'e decides whether to add it to the prohibition, users may be left without the proper resources to recover.

“In terms of health, if people start abusing marijuana the way some abuse alcohol, there's a good chance they'll get sick. I'm talking more in terms of mental health issues,” he said.

“There must be a correct way of using it. I think that's one thing that should be (discussed) in the community – what's a healthy way of using marijuana?”

However, Catholique doesn't think marijuana has as much of a negative impact as alcohol.

He points to marijuana being more socially acceptable, despite currently being illegal.

“Alcohol creates more damage. People tend to get into more accidents, and black out, and they get drunk,” he said.

“I think people seem to accept marijuana more easily than alcohol. I would imagine there's going to be a lot of discussion about this.”

The federal government plans to have marijuana legalized no later than July 2018. Sales will be restricted to people 18 and older, with territories and provinces having the ability to increase that age if they desire.