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Students open up at marijuana forum


During Youth Week, May 6-12, 136 students from Whistler Secondary, Grades 8, 9 and 10, attended a forum on marijuana at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. The event was sponsored by the Whistler Drug & Alcohol Education Committee and organized by Mountain Community Health Alternatives.

The goal of the forum was to provide students with information on marijuana, as well as giving them the opportunity to openly discuss any questions they may have.

Lunch was provided by Market Catering and door prizes were drawn, thanks to donations from McCoos, Summit Ski, Rogers Chocolates, Wild Willies, Westbeach, Le Chateau, Best Sellers and Bear Pause.

Adults at the event included: Greg McDonnell, youth outreach worker; Belinda Keech, co-ordinator of MCHA; Simon Hudson, youth programmer; Marlise Witschi, Whistler drug and alcohol counsellor; and the Whistler Peer Educators. The forum was made possible thanks to funding from the Parent Advisory Committee, the Whistler-Blackcomb Foundation, the Festival of Lights and the National Strategy on Community Safety and Crime Prevention.

Rick Cluff from CBC Radio volunteered his time for the event, to introduce the five presenters and act as a moderator for the discussion period. The presenters each spoke for 15 minutes. Pam Richardson shared her personal experiences with drug use, how she started with alcohol and progressed to heroin. Pam captivated the students with her honest account of her years as a drug addict and its tragic consequences.

Terry Bulych, a youth counsellor for a drug and alcohol out-patient clinic, shared some interesting factual information with the students. For example, it is a common misconception that marijuana is a natural and therefore relatively harmless drug. However, it contains 420 different chemicals and when you set fire to it this number goes up to 2,000. Marijuana contains 40 cancer causing agents and one joint is equivalent to smoking one pack of cigarettes.

Art Steinmann, the executive director of Alcohol Drug Education Service, discussed some of the social pressures regarding marijuana use. Nick Ugoalah of the B.C. Esteem Team and current national champion wrestler gave a captivating and inspiring account of his move from Nigeria to Canada and how he overcame obstacles through determination and goal setting. He made the choice to stay drug-free, which enabled him to reach his goals.

Sergeant Bob Hall, the RCMP drug awareness co-ordinator for the southwest district, spoke about choices and consequences.

A very open and active discussion and question period followed the presentations. There were no parents or teachers present which assisted in encouraging the students to feel comfortable asking questions relating to drug and alcohol use.

The overall theme throughout the event conveyed a powerful message to the students. The Whistler Drug & Alcohol Committee is currently tabulating feedback from the students and exploring options for follow-up workshops.

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