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Legal cannabis is the future, but cannabis consumption is not necessarily the best way forward.

With the legalization of cannabis a little over a month ago, this was the message directed at students during the Health Canada Pursue Your Passions education event at St. Patrick High School, Nov. 21 and 22.

The federal department provided the two-day set-up of five interactive stations at the school gym. It included an information website helping participants virtually navigate parts of the brain to learn how it processes and plans; a music production display that emphasized how writing songs and beats releases dopamine into the brain; a digital graffiti wall that allowed students to make art with the touch of a large screen; a reaction wall with lights that tested reaction, coordination and dexterity, as if under the influence of cannabis; and a virtual reality exercise where users wore goggles and simulated an experience of having cannabis in their system.

Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo
Erwin Ligaray, Grade 10, is working on a digital graphic art wall, part of a Health Canada cannabis-related education initiative called Pursue Your Passions. At right are Ryle Lagumay and Xavier Dela Cruz. The program took place at St. Patrick High School, Nov. 21 and 22 and aimed to show youth alternatives to cannabis use.

“I thought it was really interesting and I think it was really good they did (the exercises), especially as cannabis is just becoming legal now, which means (cannabis) is going to probably easier for kids to get. It is good they are informing us,” said Alanna Bowerman, a St. Pat’s Grade 10 student, after participating in the half-hour session.

Bowerman said students can find ways to obtain cannabis if they’re determined.

“I don’t do it but I know if I really wanted it, I could get access to it and I know everyone in the school probably has access to it,” she said. “They are giving us alternatives in that instead of doing (cannabis), you can do (something else). I think these are great alternatives as opposed to doing weed.”

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Leslie Karembera, Bowerman’s classmate, is active in athletics, especially basketball and football. He said the series of cannabis-awareness activities were beneficial and that he enjoyed “reaction wall,” which had students competing and testing their coordination and reaction speeds as if under the influence of cannabis.

“It was cool and it was fun learning all these things and how (cannabis) effects some people,” he said.

“I know some people who have access to (cannabis) and I try not to associate with those people because I know how it can affect me. I try to stay away from that.”

Jane Mooney, a Grade 10 substitute teacher, said the educational activities went beyond what teachers could communicate verbally.

“We can talk and we can say things over and over again but unless they experience it, they don’t understand,” she said. “This is a fun and interactive way to learn valuable lessons on the effects of cannabis.”

Mooney, who has about a decade of experience teaching at the school, said it’s hard to see what kind of impact cannabis legalization has on student use of the drug because it’s still such a recent development.

“It is early days yet, so I don’t think we see as much of a change,” she said. “There is definitely a lot more hype about it and kids are thinking maybe, maybe not. On a whole, I think kids are pretty sensible about it.”

Alex Blank, a tour manager with the Health Canada team overseeing the education setup, said she has been travelling since Oct. 30 to numerous high schools in Western Canada. Over the two days in Yellowknife last week week, she saw nearly 600 students, although Sir John Franklin didn’t participate.

“We want them to walk away with a passion, but ultimately enough information to make an informed decision (about cannabis) once they are of legal age,” she said. “A lot of kids don’t have the resources or are too nervous to go to their parents or are afraid to ask because they think they will get in trouble.”

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. A through and through "County boy" from Prince Edward County, Ont., Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin...

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