“Medical Marijuana is an excuse so addicts can get high.” This statement, from a D.A.R.E constable to my son’s fifth grade class launched one of the most difficult periods I have faced yet as a parent. It was an impossible dilemma. With family that used marijuana medicinally, I was personally aware of cannabis’ efficacy for chronic debilitating pain. Yet, here was an authority that I had taught my son to respect, propagating one of the biggest and most unconscionable lies of prohibition, that cannabis has no medicinal value.
Certainly the complexities of the “drug war” were far more than what a nine or 10 year old child could digest. I would not have intentionally had this discussion at this juncture of my son’s life, but was backed into a corner when my son shared what the D.A.R.E. Constable had taught their class. What is the appropriate response when a person in authority willfully disregards not only the science of medical marijuana, but also the supreme-court ruling upholding Canadian citizens’ right to use marijuana as medicine? How was I going to raise my child to respect authority, when authority was not behaving respectably?
More-so, what were “we” as a society really teaching our kids in the school system about drugs? The other parents from my son’s class likely did not dispute what the constable had told their children. Now these children would carry a biased, ill-informed opinion on the medicinal use of marijuana which would undoubtedly close doors in their future.
While I was grappling with answering these questions, there was another officer talking about drugs. David Bratzer was one of the first serving police officers in North America to call for an end to the war on drugs. Through his work with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) he has had the opportunity to speak to many diverse groups, from Rotary clubs to a senate committee in Ottawa, about his views. In all his speaking engagements he is careful to point out that his views are personal opinion, and not the views of his department.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with Bratzer at a local diner in Victoria to talk about his bid for school board trustee this Nov. 19, in the civic elections. While the most burning questions I had on my mind were in regards to the policies around drug education, I was struck by the depth which Bratzer was aware of the issues facing the Greater Victoria School District and the role of a trustee in that equation.
“A school board trustee sets the strategic direction of the school district and they create policies that promote the health and safety of the children of the district.” He told me. “Ultimately, as elected official they represent the entire community in the education of children in the district. They don’t interfere in the day to day operation of the district, more like a city councillor as opposed to a manager in the actual city staff.”
Bratzer’s background working with not-for-profit groups extends far beyond his speaking engagements with LEAP. He also serves as the secretary for his neighbourhood association in Saanich, and spearheaded the creation of scholarships for youth that were handed out through the Idea Wave conference. A local, grassroots conference, Idea Wave was put together to foster innovation. They were able to award five scholarships of $500 with the help of sponsors.
The theme of his campaign? Schools not Prisons.
“This election largely coincides with plans by the federal government to introduce an omnibus crime bill in the fall session of the House of Commons.” He told me. “I think it is very important for the people of Victoria to realize that we are closing schools and cutting programs and at the same time we are seeing a large increase in terms in the size and the cost of our criminal justice system here in Canada. That is only going to get worse if this crime legislation passes, so I am asking for a mandate from citizens of this region to continue my advocacy work in this area.”
I asked Bratzer what he thought of the drug education that is currently happening in our school system, and was surprised to learn how out-dated, and neglected the district’s drug education policies were.
“One of the areas I am committed to examining is the policies around substance abuse. If you look at the district’s policy in this area it hasn’t been updated since 1992. In fact, it is so old that it still references the Narcotics Control Act which was repealed in in the mid 1990s.”
“We have learned a lot as a society about drug education since1992. That’s almost 20 years and I think that as a school district we need to take some time to look at what we are doing in our schools. If you look at our community and some of the problems we have around substance abuse and the war on drugs, and you want to change that 20 years from now, I feel that the best way to start is in our school district because it’s what those children learn in school is going to determine what kind of choices they make as adolescents and also as they go on and become adults.”
“We need to help children make informed choices about drugs. The question is: are we teaching them to make decisions based on facts or fear? Now, I would support an evidence-based drug education curriculum in the system as opposed to fear based program.”
“You want to engage the teachers and find a way to work with them. So maybe we could do some work around a drug education program in a co-operative way with teachers and trustees working together.”
Bratzer is well versed on the issues facing the school board. For the last two years he has regularly attended school board meetings as an interested citizen. This has helped him become acquainted with the school board process, as well as the issues that the school board has to deal with.
When I asked him what the greatest obstacles facing the school district is, he took a pause to thoughtfully consider my question. Special needs education, aboriginal student achievement, labour relations between management and teachers, and the district’s structural deficit of 8.5 million dollars a year were the top issues he listed. This was closely followed by the disbanding of the school board’s climate change committees, and the outsourcing of the district’s strategic plan to a multinational corporation.
“What they should have done is went to the community and created a community based plan. The [outsourcing] reflects a failure of leadership by the current school board and represents the privatization of strategic planning by the school district.”
He said that he found the school board to be an inspiring place and that the best part of going to the school board meetings is the very start because delegations from different schools sometimes come and they will do presentations, sing a song or some kind of award will be presented.
“I want to emphasize, for me, clearly this is not a typical run for school board[…]this campaign has become something more that that and it has been very inspiring to see the support I am getting. I also want to express my thanks to the people who have supported me for the last couple of years. I have appreciated it. I would like to ask for that support again.”
Bratzer is a dedicated citizen, husband, and father whose core values of social justice, public safety, and community building are reflected in the projects he has put his energy into. He would be an excellent choice to help shape the educational future of our children.
His campaign is looking for volunteers, individuals who would be willing to canvass the neighbourhood, and talk to voters on his behalf. He is also seeking individuals who are available on Nov. 19 to assist with voter turnout. If you are interested in contributing to David’s campaign, please contact him through his website <www.bratzer.ca> To keep up to date with his campaign check out <facebook.com/davidbratzer>
If you don’t live in Victoria, check the candidates for school board trustee in your community and talk to them about drug education in our schools. Ask them the hard questions, and come prepared to educate them on the subject. Support the campaigns of individuals who are forward thinking, and open to having a dialogue about it.
If there is no one running in your community that is open to the dialogue, consider running for the position yourself. Learn about the process, as Bratzer did, and get involved. Regardless of the result, running the campaign serves to create awareness of the issue.
Equally as important, it is time for us to start talking about it with other parents about kids and drugs. Bring it up at PAC meetings, be open to having the conversation in playgrounds. Talking about it can only help us solve the riddle of appropriate drug education in our schools, and protect our children from the real dangers of drugs.
In the four years since the conversation began with my son, I have come to realize that this is a topic that we will continue to discuss throughout the rest of his teen years, and likely on into early adulthood. My honest approach about cannabis, and other drugs has opened the door to communication with my son. Over the years he has felt comfortable enough to ask me questions about all sorts of different difficult topics. In turn, it allowed me to guide him through the pitfalls and complexities of today’s world. Honest communication with our kids is the best protection we could ever give them.