CBC Gets All Hepped up About Getting High

To toke or not to toke. That is the question.

One the one hand: Take me higher. Come on, come on, take me higher. Apart from taking the edge off, it helps a vital part of the economy. On second thought, no. That stuff isn’t good for me. Gives me the proverbial heebie-jeebies. I come over all funny, as they say in some parts of England.

The CBC, God bless it and all, is a tad obsessed with the subject. Tonight it devotes not one, but two, programs to the subject. First there’s a scary doc about the possible ill-effects of smoking weed. “Can smoking pot make teenagers psychotic?” is the provocative tag given to one of the two programs. Then we are informed about the sheer size and depth of the weed industry. Obviously we are being pressed to take this subject very seriously.

Me, I want nothing to do with it. Not the subject, just the weed. It’s been decades since I indulged. London, England, summers of 1977 and ’78, I think. I have hazy memories of seeing Polly Styrene and X-ray Spex and Sham 69 at place like The Greyhound and the Hope & Anchor. I think. The Stranglers at The Marquee Club. The Clash, somewhere or other, the Pistols at the 100 Club. I’m sure my memories would be a lot clearer if it wasn’t for the smoking that was going on. Gave it up, then. Stuck to the Dry Sherry and such. And I’m a better man for it. But that’s just me. You and your cronies can indulge all you like and great good luck to you.

The Downside of High (CBC, 8 p.m. on The Nature of Things) is a warning about smoking pot. It’s not alarmist, it’s educational. At one point a Mountie turns up and speaks eloquently and knowledgably about the strength of the dope that people are smoking these days. Who knew? The upshot is that today’s pot is extraordinarily potent when compared with what people were smoking in the 1960’s. People have worked hard at increasing the amount of THC – the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana – and this, we are told can be dangerous for what is called “the developing teenage brain.” We are told that the stuff being grown in Holland and in British Columbia, is astonishingly strong.

We meet three teenagers whose mental illnesses were triggered by smoking pot. One young man hadn’t consumed that much weed, but the drug had a dramatic effect on his brain. His behaviour became increasingly psychotic and eventually he spent a year in hospital. When family members describe what was happening to him, a terrifying picture is presented. Mind you, this program is not scaremongering. It’s about science – the research done by people who have found that, in rare cases, a teenage brain can react dramatically and alarmingly to contemporary weed.

Cannabiz (CBC, 9 p.m. on Doc Zone) begins by telling us that four million Canadians admit to more than an occasional toke. It seems we love the stuff, which means that it’s a major business opportunity. In fact, we are informed, the marijuana-related industry has more workers than mining and forestry, combined. The business is worth $20 billion annually.

The town of Grand Forks, B.C., get special attention. The cops say one house in 10 has a grow-op. A guy named Taylor has the cameras follow him as he plants weed in the nearby woods. ”I’m not doing anything wrong here,” he says. Growing tomatoes as far I’m concerned.” He’s looking at revenue of $50,000 if things go as planned. The locals have mixed opinions on what is a major local industry. “Marijuana is medicinal, it makes a lot of people feel good,” one man says. “It’s disgusting,” a woman says. The former mayor is a passionate marijuana advocate.

The point, however, is this – the days of pot being a laid-back business, mainly carried out by mom-and-pop operators, are gone. The prohibition against buying and selling dope has led to billions of dollars going into the hands of organized crime. Remember the brilliant series Intelligence? That was no fantasy. A central figure in the documentary (made by writer/director Lionel Goddard) is an RCMP Constable in Grand Forks. It’s his job to enforce the existing laws on marijuana. “I kind of like to focus my attention on the bigger guys, “ he says. And then if I run out of bigger guys, I guess I’ll move on down the chain” The problem, he advises us, is that “the bigger guys” can be a nasty, violent bunch. We see an array of weaponry that’s as scary as the picture of the marijuana-induced psychosis in The Downside of High.

The program is filled with fascinating characters and startling facts. In the end, the situation seemed as muddled as ever. Medical marijuana and the existence of “compassion clubs” that supply marijuana for various ailments, have complicated things. And the program concludes with a meeting between that RCMP Constable and a licensed grower, that neatly captures all the complications.

After watching the two programs you’ll understand why the marijuana issue is a lightning rod for debate and dissent. And they are best watched in clear, cold sobriety. When you get hepped up on the issue – as CBC is correct to do here – you realize it’s a serious, sobering situation.

– Article from The Globe & Mail.