Pubdate: Sat, 07 May 2016
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Page: NP6
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network
Author: Rebecca Haines-Saah
Note: Rebecca Haines-Saah is an assistant professor in the University 
of Calgary's Department of Community Health Sciences


Young People Need A Voice As Legislation To Legalize Rolls Out, Writes
Rebecca Haines-saah

The April 20 announcement by federal Minister of Health Jane Philpott
regarding the imminent legalization of cannabis use in Canada has
provided us with the opportunity to protect our sensibilities or our
children. We won't be able to do both and so we must choose.

When Philpott announced that the government plans to have legislation
to legalize cannabis ready by spring 2017, the priority of "protecting
children" was front and centre.

It's clear that going forward, Canada's proposed legislative framework
will need to prioritize age-based limits on access, and rigorous,
enforceable point-of-sale restrictions.

How a new model of legalized cannabis distribution will affect rates
of use among young people and whether or not those under the defined
legal age will continue to access cannabis through alternative,
illegal avenues, will also require careful study. But "protecting
children" should be about more than restricting their access.

In the public policy realm, evoking the need to "protect our innocent
children" is meant to respond to persistent "moral panics" over young
people's substance use, and in this way it is not much different a
narrative than that offered up by our previous government in their
anti-drug strategy scare tactics.

Anyone who is a parent, or who works with youth, knows that telling
them to abstain and 'Just Say No', only works for some kids, some of
the time. Moreover, this approach does a disservice to those who are
inclined to experiment or who may be more vulnerable to the negative
health consequences associated with early initiation of cannabis,
closing off meaningful dialogue about the potential risks and how
these may be mitigated or avoided altogether. This is important
because in the absence of opportunities to have open and honest
conversations about drugs with the "real" people in their lives, youth
will turn to unreliable sources of online information.

In our current context where cannabis is an illicit substance,
parents, educators and other adults working with children are
frequently faced with this challenge - there is a high prevalence of
youth and adult use in Canada, but the illegal status of cannabis
means there are very few openings to have age-appropriate and
evidence-informed discussions to empower youth in their

So, instead of panicking about a potential rise in youth use rates,
let's use this policy window as an opportunity to have new
conversations with the youth we care about and are responsible for.

Instead of giving airtime to the morally outraged, let's listen to the
folks who work in youth prevention and who know the types of
strategies that are successful in connecting with those who are
resistant or "hard to reach."

What the best prevention science tells us is that spending millions on
media awareness campaigns and school-based programming have produced
few proven long-term effects. In fact, some of the most widely used
drug prevention programming has shown no evidence of decreasing use,
and has actually been associated with the increased use of some substances.

The ever popular "gateway theory" of cannabis use has been

What remains a problematic aspect of drug prevention, however, is that
most interventions target individual-level skill building, such as
refusal and self-esteem, approaches that don't get at the social
contexts in which many teens initiate and continue their substance

As an alternative, what if we were to divert the youth prevention
budget and invest in the more "upstream" prevention and mental health
promotion approaches that have been shown to impact not only
problematic substance use but contribute to better overall health and
social outcomes for youth?

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have
rights to "protection" but also to "participation." So above all,
youth need a voice and a presence at this table as the legislation
rolls out.

Exclude them from participating in the decisions that will affect them
and we will be doing ourselves a major disservice. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D