Now is the time to speak with your children about pot, says youth educator

Vancouver 4/20 celebrations off to a noisy start under cloudy skies

With marijuana use becoming more mainstream in the country as legalization inches closer, a Vancouver School Board (VSB) educator says it's never been more important for parents to offer guidance and have a conversation with their children about pot.

Thousands of Lower Mainland residents are expected to gather at the annual 4/20 rally on Friday, April 20 — many of them youth.

Last year's event saw people as young as 15 years old being admitted to hospital with suspected marijuana related illness.

The rally will be held at Sunset Beach in Vancouver, despite the wishes of the Vancouver Park Board.

While the event began as a political protest for marijuana legalziation, it has become a celebration of cannabis culture which attracts both adults and youth.

An adult event

"I think it's an adult event. I think it should be really geared for adults," said Art Steinmann, the manager of Substance Use Health Promotion for a Vancouver School Board (VSB) program.

Steinmann runs the education program School Age Children and Youth (SACY) which tries to engage VSB students and their parents to prevent the early use of drugs and alcohol.

From working with youth, Steinmann said there's a clear indication that many students are still confused about the drug's standing in society.

"A lot of young people think it's already legal," said Steinmann.

Steinmann said his research shows that marijuana has become more widely accepted in recent years, but the majority of young people still don't smoke it.

While some schools in the Lower Mainland coincidentally scheduled a professional development day on April 20, closing schools for the day, the VSB warns on its website that its schools are fully operational on Friday and regular attendance will be taken.

"We're not shy about saying to young people that's probably not a great place to hang out, and there's better things to do on that day," said Steinmann.

Many event organizers Steinmann has spoken with acknowledge youth need guidance when it comes to marijuana use, and the event is not appropriate for them, he said.

"A big celebration like that, that's very promotional of cannabis, doesn't suggest there's a downside."

Steinmann said he doesn't advocate for the legalization of marijuana, but it will make certain things a lot easier. Education and awareness campaigns for youth, research into the potential damages and benefits and proper safety regulations will all be a boon of legalization, he said.

Also, other regions that have legalized marijuana haven't seen a spike in the underage use of it, he said.

For parents dealing with children who use the drug, Steinmann said the important thing is to be alert and mindful about the damages it can cause but also not to panic and overreact.

"We have to get to some of the root issues of what underlies problematic substance use."

With files from On the Coast

Join CBC Vancouver for 419: A public forum on cannabis and youth this Thursday April 19 at 7:30 p.m. at Vancouver Technical High School. If you can't be in the live audience, you can listen on the radio or watch the Facebook Live broadcast on CBC Vancouver's Facebook page.