Wen I was in high school we were shown a film intended to deter us from experimenting with marijuana.
It was one of those classic scare-flicks that appear these days on YouTube to resounding mockery in the comment section. Three shabbily-dressed teenaged boys shared a joint and hopped into a van. As they drove through an otherwise peaceful suburban neighborhood, the world around them swirled into an array of fuzzy colors.
Stationary buildings moved, oncoming vehicles appeared to take flight, pedestrians acquired zombie like countenances.
Within minutes the van crashed, the three occupants died, and the teacher turned on the lights. Reactions from students fell into two camps. Those who concluded that marijuana kills, and those who wanted to know where to score a bag of weed that killer.
I was reminded of this film while reading “Legalizing Marijuana” by Natalie Hyde, a book that seeks to sift the facts from the fabrications about cannabis and present them to teenagers in a calm and informative fashion so they can make their own decisions. It’s a book that succeeds wonderfully in doing this.
Hyde is a Canadian author who has penned dozens of books for kids and knows how to write for them, not at them. Her starting point, which was completely bypassed by the makers of the film I watched four decades ago, is that kids are intelligent and fully capable of grasping complex questions.
She doesn’t want to frighten children from a plant their own parents might be consuming. She wants them to understand its benefits, its risks, and its place in society now that it’s legal in her country and multiple American states.
“Legalizing Marijuana” is, to use a well-worn cliche, a textbook example of how this sort of book should be written. This is obvious from the outset, as Hyde explains the changing views of cannabis that have swept much of North America in the past decade. While her bias is clearly on the side of legalization, she encourages kids to seek out the best information on the topic, listen to differing viewpoints, and reach their own conclusions, not hers. “Legalizing Marijuana” is heavy on photos and graphics, and light on text. It’s designed to be quickly read, but the message runs deep: follow the facts.
It’s a refreshing and long overdue approach, especially in regard to marijuana, and one that is savvy to the media landscape today’s kids inhabit. Recognizing that misinformation and disinformation abounds online, one of things Hyde teaches her readers is how to recognize implicit bias, how to separate credible sources from rubbish, and how to incorporate differing views in ways that lead to broader understandings of controversial issues rather than digging in on one side or the other.
In other words, it’s an example of how information should be shared and discussed in a free and democratically run society. And any 30-second dive down any random Facebook thread on any random news event will highlight the fact that adults could benefit from these lessons as well.
Hyde neither attempts to frighten kids from marijuana, nor encourage them to try it. She wants them to think about it. So she discusses the topic from multiple angles. The failure of prohibition efforts is mentioned.
The fact that one simply cannot overdose on cannabis is highlighted. When she arrives on the topic of addiction, she notes that alcohol and tobacco are far worse, but acknowledges that psychological dependence on marijuana does occur. She points out the connection between cannabis use and depression, although she presents this as a correlation, not a causation.
She stresses that impaired driving is never a good idea. She explores how US states that have legalized have, as promised by marijuana proponents, seen a reduction in black market sales, but that black markets in neighboring states where it remains illegal have grown as buds flow over borders.
There’s plenty more, but the main point of the book is that marijuana is not something to fear or oppose, nor should it be uncritically embraced. It’s something that has benefits, carries some risks, and can be wisely managed by educated citizens.
Unlike some of the most fervid cannabis boosters, she doesn’t present it as a panacea for all of life’s ills, which would be the opposite of the Just Say No bombast that overwhelmed schools in the 1980s and 1990s and that brooked no dissenting viewpoints.
The reality lies in between, she tells us, and while many questions about marijuana’s overall impact on society remain unanswered, what’s needed is more information, not more rhetoric. Most importantly, she stresses, we all need to understand that as additional knowledge is gained, we need to incorporate it into our thinking and be ready to adjust our beliefs if they don’t line up with the facts.
Kids need to hear this. Adults need to hear this. If a book like this one had been in high school libraries decades ago, we might have a healthier relationship with cannabis today.
Films like the one I saw were so over-the-top that they ultimately discredited adults as information sources. We knew from personal experience that they were lying about marijuana.
So how were we to know whether or not they were lying about cocaine or heroin?
The most important message of the film – driving under the influence is in fact dangerous – was lost on us because we were too busy laughing hysterically at the wretched — even by 1979 standards — special effects.
“Legalizing Marijuana” is the sort of book that belongs in schools. Hyde doesn’t preach, doesn’t lie or prevaricate (she sources all of her factual claims), and doesn’t get emotional. She lays out what is known, acknowledges what remains in question, and explores a controversial issue through a balanced assessment of credible source materials. In so doing, she shows kids how to be better informed, and thus better citizens. She doesn’t tell them what to think, she shows them how to think, then equips them to seek answers to their questions. She gives them skills for participating in society that extend far beyond the question of cannabis management. This book is, ultimately, a civics lesson.
David James is a freelance writer in Fairbanks. Comments about this story? Email dchomicz@AlaskaCannabist.com.
Legalizing Marijuana (Get Informed - Stay Informed)
By Natalie Hyde
Crabtree Publishing Company