Pubdate: Thu, 11 May 2017
Source: Record, The (Kitchener, CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Metroland Media Group Ltd.
Author: Sheryl Ubelacker
Page: B6


Ahead of pot legalization, programs target teens

TORONTO - Alexis Vegh is working what could be a tough crowd - about a
dozen young people in their late teens and early 20s - and she's here
to speak to them about the risks of driving high after smoking pot.

"I use quite a bit of slang during the presentation," she bluntly
informs them as she begins her hour-plus-long talk.

"Weed, piff, kush," she says, firing off some street names for
cannabis to surprised laughter. "Lit is high. Ball up. Spark up."

Vegh is speaking their language - and she's got their

As a facilitator of the Weed Out the Risk program offered by
Springboard, a community-based organization that supports at risk
youth and adults, Vegh has delivered her talk more than 200 times in
the last three years, mostly to high school students. In all, more
than 8,500 youth have been exposed to the message.

And with Ottawa preparing to legalize recreational marijuana next
year, that message is considered more critical than ever.

Springboard is among a number of Canadian organizations ramping up
efforts to teach youth about the risks of driving high, which many
young people erroneously believe is not as dangerous as drinking and

The main mind-altering ingredient in pot - tetrahydrocannabinol, or
THC - impairs short-term memory, slows reflexes and reaction times,
and narrows peripheral vision.

"Statistically, we know that young people have a fairly good ability
to recognize the risk of driving under the influence of alcohol, but
we see the numbers being significantly lower in their ability to
recognize the risks of driving high," says Vegh.

And it's not just those who smoke up and slide into the driver's seat:
surveys show 41 per cent of youth are not concerned about getting in a
vehicle with a high driver.

"The reason this scares me is this statistic right here," she says
pointing to the screen. "In one in five accidents, people under 18
test positive for weed. If we put that up to (age) 29 ... I've seen
numbers as high as 50 per cent."

Still, Vegh's presentation is meant to be informative and interactive
- - not preachy.

"What we're looking to do is educate people around their

And those choices can be deadly, as illustrated by a video Vegh runs
on a screen at the front of the room, in which family and friends
remember five teenaged boys from Kanata, Ont., who were killed in a
fiery multi-vehicle crash in 1999 that also injured 11 others.

Toxicology tests showed the 17-year-old driver who caused the
collision had significant cannabis in his system. He was convicted of
impaired driving causing death and criminal negligence causing bodily
harm, resulting in a year in jail.

While many parents have discussions with their teens warning of the
dangers of mixing alcohol and wheels, far fewer have a similar
conversation about driving while zoned out on marijuana - or being a
passenger with a high driver, says Vegh.

"So to me it doesn't make any sense that we're not having at least a
frank conversation about what are the effects, what are the risks,
what does it look like and how do you keep yourself safe."

Sparking conversations between parents and young people is at the
heart of a campaign by Drug Free Kids Canada called The Call that
Comes After, a "transmedia experience" that combines online elements
with a device central to teens' lives - their mobile phones.

Parents who visit Drug Free Kids Canada's website can customize a
short online video on the dangers of driving high by inputting their
teenager's name and cell number, as well as the name they use for the
parent, for example "Mom."

A video is then sent to their child, showing a group of teens who make
the decision to drive after smoking pot. The video culminates with a
crash, followed by an increasingly frantic series of texts from a
parent asking if they're OK.

The narrative then jumps to real-life as the same messages begin
appearing on their child's phone or other digital device.
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MAP posted-by: Matt