On Thursday, April 20, while some across the country were celebrating world cannabis day, the Carleton Place Drug Strategy Committee hosted a cannabis conversation at the upper hall of the Neelin Street Arena.
A panel of local experts comprised of Dr. Manuela Joannou (family and emergency department physician) from Perth, PC Greg Steng of the OPP, Mike Souliere of the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, Mike Beauchesne from the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre, and RN Morgan Crew from Lanark County Mental Health were on hand to speak and answer questions. The evening’s discussion was moderated by the drug strategy committee’s chair, David Somppi.
An audience of over 70 members wasted no time in posing questions to the panel. Topics covered included current cannabis use statistics, ages of those first experimenting with the substance, risks of long-term use to the developing brain, and how to have an effective conversation with younger family members.
Those in attendance were told that Canada rates number three in the world when it comes to cannabis consumers and that youth from 17-24 years of age represent the largest demographic.
Crew, who works out of Almonte, commented that 42 per cent of clients that come to her seeking mental health care are regular cannabis users. Souliere, who works in concurrent disorders at the Royal Ottawa said that “initial users are getting younger every year with those in grades 7 and 8 now reporting trying this substance out for the first time.”
Streng, who is the community safety officer for the OPP in Carleton Place put in bluntly, “cannabis is mainstream in our schools today.”
One member of the audience asked if cannabis use will rise with legalization to which Dr. Joannou answered, “when the perceived risk goes down, usage will climb.” Some were concerned about cannabis being laced with other products and substances and Souliere remarked that many of his clients who once had trust in their local marijuana dealers were shocked when they were presented with the results of blood tests that revealed the wide variety of different chemicals in their systems after using.
The evening ended with the panel offering advice on how to have effective conversations with children and youth. Souliere warned against interrogating teens with pointed and inflammatory questions. Beauchesne remarked that some of the best discussions don’t mention drugs at all, but start with topics of value to the youth and that good results are found when children believe their parents are truly interested in their opinions and activities.
Dr. Joannou reminded everyone to confirm their love and support to their children. Streng elicited more than a few laughs when he pleaded with parents not to tell their children that the police would take them away if they misbehaved. He was serious however when he concluded that he and his fellow officers do their best work at serving and protecting when young people can trust them.
Members of the Carleton Place Drug Strategy Committee expressed their thanks to everyone that attended and collected evaluation information sheets to help plan future events.
The Carleton Place Drug Strategy Committee is an external volunteer committee of the municipal council, with a mandate to help improve the health of Carleton Place residents by bringing information to light on the risks of substance abuse and misuse. It has been in existence for almost eight years.
Note: the author Brian Turner is a former chair and current member of the drug strategy committee.