Gustavo Velez, mayor of the city of Tulua in the western part of the nation of Colombia, has a radically sensible solution for reducing harm to his cities teenage cannabis users.
Teenagers gonna teenage, which includes experimenting with their bodies and minds, often entwined with questionable choices. You can make a show of fighting that with more laws and higher punishments, but that will generally only make it more enticing while opening up new potential risks. In which case the most sensible thing to do is anticipate the actual behaviors (as opposed to idealized or desired) of teenagers and offer them solutions for minimizing the risks they take while doing their experimentation.
Unfortunately most nations and communities would rather live in denial and try correct reality with cruelty rather than face reason and create more compassionate and realistic solutions. But if Gustavo Velez gets his way and it proves to be a success, it could become a model for others around the world.
In order to give local youth a center where they can freely smoke marijuana, a west Colombia mayor proposed to construct a “Marijuana-dome.”
Smoking and carrying small amounts of marijuana in Colombia is legal, but the country just introduced a new police code that prohibits the smoking of the illicit substance in public spaces.
In order to regulate the use of marijuana in his town, the mayor of Tulua subsequently proposed to construct a shelter where youth can come together and smoke weed without breaking the law or being a nuisance to neighbors.
“I would like to evaluate this issue. [The smoking of marijuana] is a reality we cannot hide. I prefer that marijuana consumers have a space away from parks and avenues so they don’t disturb order and a healthy coexistence with the remaining population in other public spaces where citizens do sports or carry out other activities.”
The mayor said he hopes the marijuana center can offer other activities.
“It would be great if these people going to this place with the intention of smoking marijuana end up doing sports or recreational activities in order for them to reintegrate into society,” the mayor added.
Velez said he would propose the initiative to the city council to seek permission for the construction of such a space.
Over the past decade, Colombia has increasingly introduced legislation decriminalizing the consumption of marijuana in a renewed attempt to curb substance abuse.
Velez is definitely onto something here. In the last part of the 20th century many American communities began to adopt ‘alternative’ high schools in order to curb drop-out rates and reach students who could not conform to the rigidity of traditional schools. A teacher from one of these alternative schools once told me back in the late 90’s that the most crucial key to these programs was allowing the students to smoke cigarettes on campus. While they recognized the negative effects of smoking, they also realized they could reach more teens if they were not denying them their most basic urges.
Giving teens a place where they do not feel chastised for getting high, whether or not you think teenagers should be getting high or not, makes them more open to the sort of positive activities Velez would like to see incorporated into the ‘marijuana-dome’.
Besides directing the teens energies into productive, creative or informative activities while high – having adult supervision and counseling would provide a far safer environment than sneaking around with the only voice of reason being your adolescent peers. This would also reduce the risk of curious teens spending too much time in places and situations in which harmful drugs might also be present.
This one is a no-brainer. Velez will someday be praised as a pioneer of reasonable harm reduction measures within communities around the world. For now at least, he has the praise of this writer. Kudos, Velez!