Bertha Madras, PhD , explained that other illicit drugs are now on the same path toward legalization as cannabis. To mainstream the idea of cannabis legalization, it was first promoted for medical use, referred to as “medical marijuana.” Hallucinogens and other psychoactive drugs are now following the same path.

Dr. Madras emphasized that we need to develop armor to resist this movement. We must understand the political context in which this movement is taking place and offer responses to the misinformation that is spread widely about drugs.

Even though cannabis use in United States has increased in recent years, the use of alcohol and tobacco has dropped. This is because the perception of harm with regard to smoking has increased dramatically for tobacco and is similar for alcohol.

The Legacy Foundation received $1 billion USD in settlement to reduce youth tobacco use. The science on the effects of smoking tobacco helps with education and changing attitudes and use, but the pivotal effect was to show young people how they were being manipulated by big tobacco business at their own risk.

Now is the time to convey to the public and to young people in particular, the parallels that can be drawn between cannabis and tobacco. We are seeing some of the same manipulative strategies previously used for tobacco, now used for cannabis.

The science on the negative health effects of tobacco goes back many years. In 1912 it was suggested that tobacco is linked to lung cancer; in the late 1920s and early 1930s, it was linked to cancer.

In 1950, there was small demand for tobacco. Cigarettes were given to US troops and the public was urged to donate to supply soldiers with cigarettes. Then to address the link to cancer, advertisers designed ad campaigns featuring doctors to promote cigarette use.

In 1964, the US Surgeon General announces that tobacco causes lung cancer. There were new advertising bans, increased taxes, and education campaigns. In 1973, there is documentation that Big Tobacco companies directly advertise to teenagers to recruit young users.

In the US the tobacco industry spends $20 million each year in lobbying. Tobacco is a $43 trillion per year business.

We now see direct parallels between the Big Tobacco and Big Marijuana industry. Big Marijuana is working to make cannabis seem harmless and is using money to get policy changes made. In the 1970s there was documented interest from the tobacco industry in developing alternative product lines for cannabis. Today, we are seeing a focus on youth as users for the new cannabis industry to recruit life-long customers (e.g. edibles in the form of candies, sodas, cookies, etc.). It is estimated that cannabis will be $10 billion industry.

In 1994 the Big Tobacco Executives pledged that they did not believe tobacco was addictive. There are similar groups that promote cannabis legalization claiming that cannabis is harmless. The “facts” they present are full of misinformation. Dr. Madras encouraged the audience to equip themselves with responses to the claims made by these groups.

Rogers Kasirye of Uganda Youth Development Link began by providing an overview of the challenges facing sub-Saharan Africa. As of 2010, the population of sub-Saharan Africa was 856 million. It is a young population with about 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24, most of whom live in rural areas. Among the challenges facing the population, include high levels of alcohol/drug use; poverty; under-served youth; violence; low literacy levels; and disparities in terms of access to services and education.

Presently youth account for about 60 percent of unemployed African people. This makes young people prime targets for violence, war, crime and drug/alcohol use. The prisons in Africa are filled with young people.

Alcohol is the top drug problem, followed by cannabis. Many sub-Saharan nations are signatories of UN conventions but their laws are weak. The emphasis is focused on law enforcement and inadequate treatment access.

In terms of prevention, UNODC helps provide standards for evidence-based standards. There is a strong need in Africa for new strategies for successful interventions and to build capacity for prevention. Right now few professionals are taking on this issue in Africa; it is mostly voices of NGOs.

IOGT international has supported a facility that initiated work 15 years ago which is making a difference in the lives of about 1,200 young people. Young people are looking for information.

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