Let’s take a look at a chainsaw.
That chain will likely draw your attention. Sharp and jagged metal spinning at 50mph with one purpose: rip through wood.
And I'm sure it works on flesh and bone just as well.
It feels like it gets heavier after a while. When the chain’s ripping and wood's flying around, if you don’t have the proper grip strength you may lose control. Cut-resistant gear is a wise choice - just in case.
Once it’s revved up it’s loud. If you spend a few hours working a chainsaw without the proper protection you’re likely to damage your ears.
Then there’s the sawdust and wood chips flying through the air. Eye protection is also on the list.
I won’t spend time on cutting techniques, or how to avoid kickback, but I assure you skill and precision are also a requirement.
The dangers of a chainsaw are obvious.
We don’t give out chainsaws to children for them to figure out on their own. Someone with experience is likely to teach a young operator, and highlight what to be cautious of.
Now with that in mind, let’s take a look at drugs.
A lot less intimidating at first glance, right? No jagged chains spinning at 50mph, just little pills, plants, liquid and powder.
But we know there’s more to it than that. And truly drugs can be, and often are, extremely dangerous.
Too much caffeine can cause a skull splitting headache. The wrong combination of sleeping pills and alcohol will kill you.
As with the chainsaw, lack of proper education or poor intention can make drugs very dangerous tools. It's why we provide proper dosage information on every bottle of aspirin, and all liquor legally sold in Canada has the percentage of alcohol listed on the label.
That's the benefit of having dangerous tools like drugs controlled by responsible people. Unfortunately, the drug dealers selling all the marijuana and LSD aren't following the same standards.
That's why they're illegal though, right?
Those drugs must be far too dangerous for even our advanced testing and regulating systems to attribute safe dosage guidelines to. We can regulate alcohol because it is possible to only drink one glass of wine and have a nice enjoyable and responsible time with friends. That's not possible with something as dangerous as marijuana, right?
So what is more dangerous? Illegal drugs, or chainsaws?
Your 14 year old son is going to look through your garage while you’re away on business and he’s going to find something to play with alone in the backyard.
Would you prefer it to be:
b) marijuana cigarette
d) loaded rifle
g) psilocybin mushrooms
Now, what if he was 19 years old, and you were able to first show him how to use the chainsaw?
Let’s be even safer. Say he was 25, had been taking chainsaw lessons for 7 years, and was just about to write his master’s thesis on proper chainsaw technique.
But what if he was 40 years old, had been researching the therapeutic use of psilocybin mushrooms for 15 years, knew exactly what dose to take, planned to stay in his own home the entire time alongside an Amazonian shaman with 40 years experience administering mushrooms, in addition to a nurse closely monitoring his vitals the entire time?
At what point does taking mushrooms or smoking marijuana become less dangerous than operating a chainsaw? It makes for an interesting debate.
The thing is, we aren't banning chainsaws.
In Canada, the hardware store Canadian Tire sells bear spray, rifles, ammunition, hunting knives, flammable oils and gas, lighters, power tools, and more. All of which can be very useful tools, but can also be quite dangerous.
So this January I could go on a shopping spree and walk out with a bag full of shiny new dangerous goods. And as I walk home, with my mind distracted by all of the possible avenues of destruction before me, I could slip on an icy sidewalk, fall backward and give myself a concussion.
But we aren't banning ice either.
'That’s silly,' you might say. 'Of course we wouldn't ban ice! How could we? It's completely and utterly natural.'
Well, we've already banned plants.
By painting a picture of drugs not as tools, but only dangerous substances, only threats to our safety, it's as if we are telling our young people that a car can only be crashed, sex can only result in disease, and a chainsaw can only end in a Texas massacre.
Let's say a teenage boy asks his father about alcohol.
Is it best for the father to simply tell his son alcohol makes people aggressive, stupid, irresponsible and sick; that it causes terrible car accidents, promotes fights and date rape, and can render him blacked out and unconscious on the side of the road?
If he said that, the kid would probably be too afraid to ever drink the stuff, right?
But what do you think the boy will think after he does try a beer, despite the warning, and feels great?
For one he's likely not to trust his father anymore, but he may also not know how to handle himself. He may assume it's perfectly reasonable to act irresponsible if he's had a drink. That is what he was told it does after all.
Now say the father also let his son know that a beer or two with good company may help some people relax, and can help people open up to one another. That he himself has a drink now and then, but also that drinking too much can still be quite dangerous.
That alcohol can be a tool, like a chainsaw, and just as we don't celebrate someone cutting off his leg with the chainsaw we don't think it's cool or fun to drink too much and get sick, or worse. We celebrate when someone has filled their wood shed for the winter, and we can praise those who know their limit and drink responsibly.
The father is now giving his son the choice to make his own responsible or irresponsible decision, and if he has been truthful with the information he's passed on that will build trust.
Honest education and the freedom to choose ultimately creates trust, and right now we have not earned the trust of our young people.
Young people today are told marijuana is only dangerous as if the plant itself has an innate evil within it.
But they try it for themselves.
They find it to be a tool like any other, with benefits that were never mentioned, and disadvantages that don't measure up to what they've been taught.
It is in this moment a little bit of that trust cracks.
Inevitably the thought becomes, 'How else have I been mislead?'
If there is in fact a gateway to experimentation with new dangerous substances, it is the realization that what you've been told to fear is not to be feared, and that our education is not to be trusted.